Women’s organization hosts ‘Know Your Rights’ forum
Aim is to educate, inform immigrants, others in the community
The organization Women of Action Charles County, or WOACC, held an open meeting Saturday with the Maryland chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union to discuss immigration rights with members of the community.
Abena McAllister, founding member of WOACC, said recent reports of immigration raids in St. Mary’s County and elsewhere raised concerns among members regarding what specific rights individuals may have.
“We want to make sure that we get information out to the community that the community is in need of,” McAllister said. “A few of our members, who have immigrant family members were concerned, and if people are concerned, we want to address it.”
WOACC formed following the Women’s March on Washington in January and organized the “A Day Without Women” demonstration earlier this month.
“This is information we can go out and give to people,”
McAllister said. “A lot of people contacted me and told me they were afraid to even come because they were afraid someone would tip ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] off, which is sad.”
Wala Blegay, attorney and board member of the ACLU Maryland chapter, said the ACLU has been performing “Know Your Rights” trainings for several years, but recently the focus has shifted to include immigrant rights.
“The ACLU has been hearing about some home raids, and there have been some encounters that we’ve been hearing about since January, so we’ve been going out and reminding people of their rights,” Blegay said.
Blegay said police do not have the right to ask drivers for their immigration papers if they are pulled over, nor should they ask a pedestrian walking down the street.
“If you are driving a car, they need to see your driver’s license, because that is your license to operate the vehicle, and the registration, when they ask, but immigration papers should not be part of that request,” Blegay said. “Legally, under the law, you are required to have your immigration papers with you … but that doesn’t mean you need to give it over when you’re driving or walking down the street.”
Blegay said the most important thing is to stay calm and do no more than is legally required.
“If they ask you to open the door, do not open the door, unless they have a valid administrative warrant,” Blegay said. “The warrant has to be signed by a judge, and it has to have the name stated. If it doesn’t have that, you open the door.”
Isaac Falusi, an immigration attorney, said police may enter a home if in “hot pursuit” of a fleeing suspect without a warrant.
“Beside that, the only time they can enter your house is if they have a warrant,” Falusi said.
An immigration warrant, signed by an immigration judge, should have “1-200” or “1-350” on one side, Falusi said. That type of warrant is narrower than a police warrant.
“An administrative hearing warrant, that warrant is for a person, so they don’t have a right to search your home, because it requires consent,” Falusi said.
Blegay said it is important not to resist, but not to provide more information than legally required without the presence of an attorney.
“Do not resist, but do not talk until you have a lawyer present,” Blegay said.
Falusi said it is important to cooperate with law enforcement officers, but to remember the U.S. Constitution is based on the concept of “personal autonomy.”
“There is a principle in the Constitution of self government, self autonomy. I cannot come to you and invade your space. The Constitution does not give anybody power to do that, no one,” Falusi said.
Falusi said law enforcement must be balanced with individual rights.
“In order to cooperate with law enforcement and to keep our country safe, but also to make sure our person is not violated, our human rights are not taken, there is a balancing act that we all have to do,” Falusi said.
Blegay said a smartphone app, currently available for free from the ACLU, allows you to upload and send video from a cell phone if you believe you are witnessing a violation of someone’s rights.
“We don’t condone breaking the law,” McAllister said. “But we want people to have the information about their rights that they need, and so that’s why we want to provide it to the community.
Immigration attorney Isaac Falusi speaks at a “Know Your Rights” forum hosted by the Women of Action Charles County on March 25.