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Immigrants who want to participate in Black Lives Matter protests are grappling with the choice of putting their legal status and, in some cases, their lives, at risk to join the cause.
Protests erupted around the country following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minneapolis police officers in late May. The protests, which are over policed and have seen unprecedented levels of police brutality, could leave immigrants open to deportation regardless of their legal status.
“This is a dilemma that immigrants are facing right now,” Andrea Flores, the deputy director of immigration policy at the ACLU, told CNN. “So many immigrants want to participate, but the risk is always there. It’s important to protest and it’s important to stay safe. But the decision is unfair to people who don’t have enough protections due to their immigration status.”
The North Star spoke to Allen Orr, the vice president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) about the risks immigrants face when they choose to attend Black Lives Matter protests.
Stratospheres of Risk
Orr explained that non-citizens are in a “stratosphere of risk.” Undocumented immigrants face the highest level of risk followed by visa holders, DACA recipients and, finally, green card holders.
“The risk is pretty high for someone who's undocumented,” Orr said. The attorney added that heading to a highly policed area, like protests, puts undocumented immigrants at risk of being arrested and deported. Orr also noted that if an undocumented individual is hurt at a protest and needs healthcare, there might not be medical assistance for them.
Orr told The North Star that he would give the same recommendations to Dreamers, noting they only have DACA because they don’t have a criminal record. “If you got arrested for something that the court considered a significant misdemeanor, [it] would be problematic for you,” he said.
This was the case for Arizona-based Dreamer Mázima Guerrero. The DACA recipient was arrested on June 13 as she left a protest in Phoenix with a group of legal observers, The Arizona Republic reported.
Guerrero, who is a community organizer with Puente Human Rights Movement, was doing legal observation at the protest and was in the process of leaving when police arrested her. She was then transferred to ICE custody and taken to an immigration field office in downtown Phoenix.
She was finally released on June 15 after the community rallied together to push authorities to release her.
The Arizona Republic reported that the community held a protest, flooded the offices of Sheriff Paul Penzone, Phoenix Police Chief Jeri Williams and Mayor Kate Gallego with phone calls, and launched a massive social media campaign. Two state legislators, a state senator, three Latinx Phoenix City Council members and more than a dozen other Arizona leaders sent letters.
Her attorney told the newspaper that despite being released, Guerrero will likely face immigration hearings along with a June hearing for criminal charges.
The risks for the undocumented and DACA recipients were heightened when acting Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner Mark Morgan announced in at the end of May that his agency was supporting federal, state and local law enforcement agencies “confronting the lawless actions of rioters.”
CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin told The Hill, “This deployment is about supporting the efforts of our federal, state and local partners, not about carrying out CBP’s immigration enforcement mission. This is about the preservation of life and safety.”
Visa and Green Card Holders Still at Risk
Visa holders face some of the same risks as the undocumented, despite being legally in the country. Orr said that if visa holders are arrested, they will likely face an extra level of scrutiny whenever they have a formal visa interview. Visa holders who have been arrested and travel outside of the U.S. might not be allowed back in.
Things are slightly different for permanent U.S. residents, otherwise known as green card holders. “A simple arrest probably is not going to be an issue for them,” Orr said, but it could affect them if they want to become a citizen.
Orr said that green card holders who have a series of misdemeanors could be prevented from being naturalized. But those who are charged with a felony, say due to a drug charge, could face deportation.
“Not to say that, you know, protesters are doing a lot of drugs or there are drugs involved…I’m just sort of saying, when you have a group of a hundred or more people together, you can’t control what everybody’s doing,” Orr said. He added that when individuals are arrested in a group, then police may charge everyone with the same crime.
Orr noted that for immigration purposes you don’t even have to be convicted of a crime for it to be an issue, you merely need to be charged.
Risk Calculation and Facing Arrest
Orr urged immigrants who are considering attending Black Lives Matter protests to calculate their risks before participating. He added that immigrants should always be evaluating whether it’s safe for them to participate in the first place or whether it’s safe to continue participating.
For immigrants arrested during the protests, Orr said that it is important to know that the rights afforded to citizens or green card holders will likely not be afforded to them. They might not be allowed to have a phone call or they might not be given medication if they need it.
Green card holders who are arrested during the protests should immediately call an immigration attorney to work with a criminal attorney to make sure they are not charged with something that could impact their immigration status, Orr said.
Ultimately, Orr said, he would not recommend immigrants of varying legal statuses attend Black Lives Matter protests. Instead, he recommended supporting the cause in other ways, like donating, person-to-person education and writing letters.
Know Your Rights
If immigrants do plan to attend the protests, it is important they know their rights. AILA has put together handouts in seven languages that highlight what rights immigrants have if ICE visits their home, their workspace or in public. Those handouts can be viewed here.
You have the right to remain silent. If you do choose to remain silent, say so out loud.
You may refuse a search. You don’t need to consent to being searched, but an officer can pat you down if they suspect you have a weapon.
You have the right to speak to a lawyer. You can refuse to sign any and all paperwork until you have the chance to speak to a lawyer.
Do not lie about your immigration status or provide fake documents. You can refuse to show documentation that says what country you are from.
How to Support BLM Protests
Learn about those affected by police brutality and racism here. This resource also helps individuals sign petitions and email their representatives.
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a senior writer for The North Star. She has published in various publications, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Europe, Asia, Australia and the Americas.