ICE official answers questions at Cornelius town hall
Don't say anything.
Don't let them in your house.
For undocumented immigrants who worry about being deported, those were some of the practical takeaways from Saturday's Cornelius town hall meeting, where officials from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) attempted to demystify their agencies.
The spokeswomen, who requested anonymity from the News-Times, didn't actually advise anyone to do those things but did give forthright answers to questions from concerned citizens, who offered story after story of ICE arrests that seem to be setting a new, more aggressive pattern:
The Beaverton man who was arrested and is being held for deportation after failing to pay a traffic ticket.
The Hillsboro senior citizen with no criminal record who applied for a "U Visa" (for victims of hate crimes) after being beaten up, then was followed by ICE officers and arrested at a 7-11.
The man arrested at the Multnomah County Courthouse where he was testifying as a witness in a domestic violence case, when he had no criminal history other than being undocumented.
Without more exact details, the ICE and CIS representatives couldn't comment on those specific cases, but they did give candid explanations on confusing issues to about 40 people at Centro Cultural. Their comments have been confirmed and clarified by ICE spokesperson Rose Richeson.
ICE does not do raids or checkpoints, which imply indiscriminate targeting of random subjects. "We know ahead of time who we're targeting," said the ICE official. "If you're truly under the radar and have never had any interactions with law enforcement, we won't know about you."
But she acknowledged that sometimes non-targets who are undocumented can be arrested if encountered accidentally while ICE officers are looking for someone else — even if the non-target has not committed any other crimes.
In addition, ICE will target people who have committed no crimes other than re-entering the country illegally after previous deportation, which itself can be a felony.
People can legally refuse to talk to ICE officers.
One town hall participant mentioned a "Know Your Rights" card from the American Civil Liberties Union that advises people to remain silent if contacted by ICE officers.
The ICE official acknowledged Saturday that while ICE officers can't arrest someone without incriminating evidence, conversations with people who begin answering ICE officers' questions sometimes provide "reasonable suspicion that they are here unlawfully" and they can then be arrested.
People do not need to open their doors to ICE officers, even if they have a warrant. That's because ICE is an administrative agency so generally issues administrative "removal warrants" with administrator signatures, which can be used to arrest people in public places but not in their homes unless they give ICE officers consent to enter.
Only a judicial warrant with a judge's signature can require people to open their doors.
A Department of Homeland Security document notes that if a homeowner refuses to allow ICE officers in, they must "wait it out" until the target of their arrest appears in a public area.
In addition, there have been reports of strangers coming to people's homes and impersonating ICE officers. The CIS representative cautioned people to ask for the credentials of anyone claiming to be an ICE officer and also ask for a warrant. If they can't show one of those, call the local police department.
ICE is not a uniformed agency, although officers sometimes wear a vest or jacket displaying the "ICE" logo. If fully uniformed officers are knocking at the door, they are not related to ICE.
Local police officers or sheriff's deputies are not working with ICE. That's one of the key points Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz wanted to get across to the crowd Saturday. "People are afraid to talk to me…to my officers," Schutz said. If a victim needs to report a crime or if police need testimony from someone who witnessed a crime, "we are not going to be calling ICE and reporting that conversation," Schutz said.
"Here in this region, we've not been asking local police to ask for documents," the ICE official confirmed. Cooperation with ICE can only occur with the consent of state or local officials.
If a man who failed to pay a traffic fine gets arrested by ICE, that doesn't mean local officers reported him, said the CIS official. It means the case went to warrant status and to a database open to all law enforcement, including ICE.
Both ICE and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service contact people by letters — never phone calls. A CIS official at the town hall described numerous instances of scams and fraud from people who call vulnerable residents, seeming to threaten deportation or immigration and sometimes asking for money. Ignore those or report them to your local police department, she advised.
People can find out whether ICE agents have detained someone by checking the Online Detainee Locator System at (https://locator.ice.gov/odls/homePage.do) or by calling the ICE Detention Reporting and Information line at 1-888-351-4024.
If someone is picked up by ICE, they are not entitled to a lawyer. Forest Grove resident Christian Calzada pointed out that in immigration cases — unlike criminal cases — neither the state nor federal government will provide a lawyer for people who can't afford one, a fact the ICE official confirmed.
n Undocumented immigrants who are part of the "Deferred Action Childhood Arrivals" program (DACA) are still here illegally. DACA, which protected people who were brought here as children by their parents, was originally created to tide them over until Congress enacted comprehensive immigration reform that would give them a path to citizenship. But that has not yet happened.
Under Obama, DACA immigrants were nearly a "hands off" category, but current immigration policy gives them a little less protection, with ICE arrests triggered if they commit crimes, according to the CIS official at the town hall.
How to handle a 'Time of Unavailability'
One participant at Saturday's town hall in Cornelius came thinking of the Latina girls she leads in an after-school group. Many of them are scared about the possibility of their parents getting deported.
"I have girls crying every day," she said. "Their parents are talking to them about where they should go if they come home and their parents are not there."
What could she say to comfort them?
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement official's response about "due process rights" wouldn't be much help, the woman said: "These girls are 10."
The Citizenship and Immigration Services official encouraged those families to have a plan in place in case one or both parents were deported.
A plan "can ease a child's anxiety" if they know where they should go and who will take care of them, she said.
The Forest Grove School District already has such a "Family Preparedness Plan" for a "Time of Unavailability" on its website (fgsd.k12.or.us/pages/ForestGroveSD/News/FGSD_Protocols_for_Acess_to_S).
The plan includes sections for "Important Children's Information," which amounts to "Emergency Numbers and Important Contact Information" and forms for Delegation of Parental/Guardian Powers and a Relative Caregiver Affidavit or how to get Mexican passports for minors (both parents must be present).
The CIS spokeswoman also suggested people contact her agency to apply for green cards.
But that application process is very expensive, said Forest Grove Police Chief Janie Schutz, who had to go through it with her son-in-law, who is from Nicaragua.
Schutz thought she would be able to wade through the paperwork herself but found it far more confusing than she expected and they ended up hiring a lawyer.
"We need to put an effort into making green card process easier," Schutz said, noting that few immigrants have either money for a lawyer or enough English fluency to understand such paperwork.
The CIS spokeswoman said her agency just adopted a new sliding scale for getting help and fee waivers during the green-card process.
"We're doing more outreach than ever before," she said, encouraging people to apply for green cards or recheck the status of their current applications.