January 13, 2016

Immigrant Community to Hear of Risks and Rights

In response to recent U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids across the nation, an information session will take place in the Community Room at St. Paul’s Church at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Sponsored by Princeton Human Services, Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF), and Unidad Latina en Accion NJ (ULA), the workshop will cover the following topics: who is at risk of being deported? what to do during a raid? your rights in this country, and organizations that can assist you in the event of a raid.

An immigration lawyer will be present to answer general questions, and Human Services will provide additional helpful information and resources to residents who may be fearful about how to respond if ICE agents come to their home. For example, ICE agents must show a court order signed by a judge to enter someone’s home. Otherwise the resident is not obligated to open the door. 

In a January 4 statement, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson announced that ICE over the previous weekend had “engaged in concerted, nationwide enforcement operations to take into custody and return at a greater rate adults who entered this country illegally with children.”

The focus of the recent operations, primarily in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, where 121 individuals were apprehended and are being held in federal detention centers before being deported to their home countries in Central America, “were adults and their children who 1) were apprehended after May 1, 2014 crossing the southern border illegally, 2) have been issued final orders of removal by an immigration court, and 3) have exhausted appropriate legal remedies, and have no outstanding appeal or claim for asylum or other humanitarian relief under our laws.”

“Our borders are not open to illegal migration,” Mr. Johnson said. “If you come here illegally, we will send you back consistent with our laws and values.”

Elisa Neira, executive director of Human Services in Princeton, expressed concern over the recent ICE actions and their effects on local immigrants, “We want our residents to be educated, to have access to competent immigration attorneys and nonprofit agencies, to have their documents and records in a safe place and not to fear seeking assistance from local police, schools and other agencies, when needed. We would like them to continue to live their lives and go on with their normal routines.”

U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) denounced the raids last week, stating, “These raids illustrate the many painful aspects of a system that has failed, including harsh tactics facing undocumented mothers and children whose only mistake was to escape a certain death in their native countries. The Northern Triangle nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala have the highest murder rates in the world. We must recognize that these families are fleeing escalating violence and address the root causes of this humanitarian crisis.”

Mr. Menendez’s statement went on to criticize “the climate of intolerance and misplaced fear promoted by Republicans,” the frequency of “erroneous targeting, detention, or deportation,” and “deep concerns of the chilling effect these home raids will have among immigrant communities who will understandably be terrified and deterred from approaching law enforcement to report crimes and forced further into the shadows.”

Last Thursday immigration activists gathered in Newark in front of the Rodino Federal Building that houses U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to protest ICE raids and further planned enforcement operations. There have been reports, denied by ICE, of recent raids and arrests in Freehold and New Brunswick.

“We are not aware of any raids in Mercer County,” Ms. Neira stated, “but there is a lot of confusion, which is why it’s so important to communicate to the public about their rights and how they can prepare.”

“These recent ICE operations are unfortunate,” stated Princeton Councilwoman Heather Howard. “They damage the work that communities like Princeton are doing to build inclusive and welcoming relationships that foster trust and cooperation between immigrants, police and local government.” Police Chief Nick Sutter added that “the Princeton Police Department is committed to protecting all members of the community, without regard to immigration status or nationality, and we want to emphasize that local law enforcement does not enforce federal immigration laws.”

The local Human Services office stated that it is a resource for residents to ask questions, and, “in the event that any ICE action takes place in Princeton, those affected are encouraged to call the Human Services office for assistance at (609) 688-2055.”