A New Year traditionally inspires hopes of better things to come, but for a large part of the undocumented immigrant community, 2016 is turning out to be a stark season of hysteria, anxiety, and fear. Late last month, right around Christmas Eve, there were rumblings of an extensive and aggressive ICE operation underway to sweep up illegal aliens from Central America (primarily El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Homeland Security Secretary Jeh C. Johnson confirmed this on January 4, 2016 in a public press release regarding Southwest Border Security. Since then, within a matter of days, over 100 individuals have been rounded up and taken into custody. Aside from the targeting of a specific population, what is perhaps more alarming is the alleged manner in which people are being apprehended. According to some accounts, ICE agents have conducted the raids utilizing extreme tactics that run roughshod over basic constitutional protections.
Who is at Risk?
This latest initiative purports to be an aggressive response to the unprecedented surge of families and unaccompanied children who fled Central America attempting to cross the border into the US in the spring and summer of 2014. According to DHS, the primary targets of the latest operation are:
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 or for asylum or other humanitarian relief under the immigration laws.
DHS characterizes this concerted series of raids as part of a larger effort to improve border security, as referenced in Secretary Johnson's 2014 Enforcement Memo, which categorizes those who are apprehended or who came here after January 2014 as Priority Number Three for removal.
ICE Raids in New Jersey and New York?
While most reports document raids taking place in Georgia, Texas, and North Carolina, there is much anecdotal evidence that ICE agents are aggressively pursuing individuals in New York and New Jersey as well. What is disturbing is that according to families and friends of those apprehended, many of those being picked up don't appear to fall within the class of people who are at the forefront of this 2016 deportation campaign. So, notwithstanding the public announcements and press regarding which group of Central Americans are being targeted, undocumented aliens, those who are out of status, as well as those who have outstanding orders of removal or deportation, would be well advised to be extremely cautious, and consider seeking counsel from an experienced immigration attorney. (Technically speaking, anyone does not have status in the US is vulnerable to removal, regardless of whether or not he or she is a "priority" under the new guidelines.) Under some circumstances, an individual's problematic immigration situation can be resolved. In some cases, even removal orders-which ordinarily signal the end of the road-can be legally defective and in some cases, reopened.
What To Do If ICE Comes Knocking At Your Door?
In the event that you or someone you care about encounters an ICE agent during a raid, it is important to remember that individuals presently in the United States-even those whose immigration status is "illegal"-- are afforded basic, fundamental protections under the US Constitution. The Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteen Amendments of the Constitution provide a wide penumbra of rights that include the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizure, as well as the right against self-incrimination. As such, remember that
1) ICE AGENTS REQUIRE A WARRANT TO ENTER THE PREMISES.
People should demand to see a warrant before allowing an ICE agent into their home. Beware that if you voluntarily consent to an officer entering your home without one, you may be waiving this 4th Amendment right.
2) YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT.
Those apprehended by ICE do not have to answer questions or sign any documents-and probably should not without consulting with an attorney first. Any admissions made during the encounter can potentially be used against you. You may invoke your right to remain silent under the 5th Amendment.
If you or someone you know is taken into custody, seek the help of an immigration attorney immediately!