Helping An Undocumented Immigrant In Your Life: What Can You Do Without Getting Into Trouble Yourself?
If you've encountered a person in your life you believe to be kind and worthy of your friendship, but they happen to be an undocumented immigrant, you probably feel like you're between a rock and a hard place. You want to extend yourself as a friend, but that may include helping someone who is deemed as a criminal, which, in turn, technically makes you a criminal. While most people don't want to commit a crime, nor do they advocate it for others, it's human nature to want to help a friend and despite the legal and political landmine that the immigration issue has become, you can act in your friend's best interest without sacrificing yourself.
Be Careful Who You Talk To
The immigration debate divides the nation and anyone you speak with about an undocumented immigrant could result in authorities being notified. Also, be careful for yourself, as helping undocumented persons could land you in trouble, too. Section 6 of President Trump's Executive Order to enhance public safety clearly targets those people who would assist illegal immigrants.
Despite the fact that you see your friend as a decent, law-abiding person just trying to make it in America, there are countless forces working to find and deport undocumented immigrants, and if you're caught up in that process, you could be held accountable. Proceed with cautious optimism, only without announcing it to everyone you know. Limit your help to the friendship you form and don't extend it to offering a place to stay or a place to hide from ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) or any other law enforcement agency. While helping your friend become a legal citizen, you don't want to do anything illegal.
Help Them Learn English
One of the biggest obstacles to any immigrant (undocumented or not) coming into the country is not being able to understand the language. Communication is an important part of everyday life, but more so for someone who is living precariously as an "illegal." Engage them in conversation to introduce them to the language and allow them the opportunity to practice actually speaking. Even if they have and are reading an English phrase book, which is highly advisable, the only way to really learn a new language is to use it. The skills they acquire are invaluable to assimilating into society, becoming more employable, and also dealing with legal issues that may arise.
Advise The Person On Customs And Laws To Avoid Standing Out
Your illegal immigrant friend doesn't want to draw unnecessary attention, nor do they want to disrupt any normal course of events in the neighborhood, at a job, or at other places. Talk to them about blending in and getting along so that they are more likely to be welcomed. This is not to say that they should suppress their heritage or culture, nor should they put up with any taunting or discrimination; rather, they need to know how to best fit in and get along in their new country.
Explain What To Do If ICE Or Other Officials Make Inquiries
Most immigrants who aren't documented live in constant fear of being questioned by authorities; however, even undocumented immigrants have rights. For example, a warrant is still needed to enter the home of a suspected illegal immigrant, even if they're wanted for questioning in a criminal matter. If the local police detain your friend and they're referred to ICE, ICE must pick them up within a couple days, or your friend goes free. The best thing for any undocumented immigrant to do when confronted by officials is to cooperate politely, especially considering that not all encounters with law enforcement result in being arrested.
Prepare The Immigrant's Entire Family For Official Emergencies
In the unfortunate event that your friend is arrested and/or detained, their family will need to know what to do. Because you probably don't want to get a call in the middle of the night or while you're at work, asking what they should do in the heat of the moment, explain to the family what's most likely to happen if any undocumented person is detained or arrested. Unfortunately, you (nor anyone else) can't predict exactly what may happen, as some of it is up to the officials processing your friend. They might be the subject of a removal proceeding, which means the ICE officer is putting them on the road to deportation.
Still, that doesn't automatically mean being shipped out of the country, as removal proceedings, which also require the involvement of an immigration judge, can take a long time. Provided your friend hasn't committed an offense other than being undocumented, they'll likely be released on bond, giving them, their family, and you more time to fight for the right to remain in the country.
Find An Immigration Attorney
The sooner you can introduce your friend to an actual attorney who represents illegal immigrants on a regular basis, the better. Even if they're never officially stopped and dragged through any legal process, if they want to live in the country, they should become a legal citizen. Either scenario (being picked up by police or ICE or seeking legal immigrant status) is complicated and confusing, thus requiring the assistance of a lawyer who can help your friend through the numerous issues they face:
- Obtaining a green card or work visa.
- Applying for legal status or reapplying if the application was denied.
- Taking advantage of amnesty programs, such as DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).
- Receiving other forms of help available, such as food, medical, or housing assistance.
Laws are changing quickly, too, so even if you think you know how things might go for your undocumented friend, you really can't be sure. It's in their best interest to contact an immigration attorney as soon as possible so they can understand what they need to do to become a citizen, get out of any legal binds they may be in, and proceed to live a normal life according to the American dream they came here for.
The hot issue of immigration is different when taken out of the headlines and applied to real-life circumstances. When you see the human side, rather than the politics, it's hard not to want to help. Make sure you know what you're getting into and that legal help for everyone involved (including you) isn't more than a phone call away.