Irakere Picon, a young lawyer with the National Immigrant Justice Center, led the audience packed into a high school auditorium in reciting what he told them is the one English phrase they all need to learn.
“I exercise my right to remain silent,” Picon said.
“I exercise my right to remain silent,” repeated the crowd of immigrants and their supporters, who came Sunday to Sullivan High School in Rogers Park for a “Know Your Rights” workshop.
“Go home and practice,” Picon advised.
Welcome to Donald Trump’s America, where the standard Berlitz phrase book will need to begin with the Miranda rights.
Fears of a Trump immigration crackdown became reality last week with his executive order and the ensuing ham-handed rollout at the nation’s airports.
We’re not at the stage of mass deportations just yet, but with Trump’s order making all undocumented immigrants more vulnerable to deportation, there’s no reason to assume it won’t come to that.
Not waiting to find out, immigrant rights groups are ratcheting up efforts to educate immigrants about how to protect themselves if enforcement agents show up at their homes or workplaces.
It’s the same advice dispensed to immigrants when Barack Obama was president — a mixture of legal basics and practical how-to tips on preparing for a crisis.
But everything has taken on a new sense of urgency after Trump’s aggressive start.
They say the advice applies equally to immigrants who are living here legally and illegally, because even legal immigrants are at risk of mistreatment.
Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights, assured Sunday’s audience that rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to all the “people of the United States, not just the citizens, not just the people who are legally here, but to all the people.”
Foremost for these purposes, Tsao said, are the “right to be safe in our homes against unreasonable searches, right to remain silent and right to an attorney.”
“If Immigration comes to your door, or any other law enforcement, you do not have to answer any of their questions,” Tsao stressed.
He advised them to teach their children not to even answer the door — and to keep handy the phone number of an immigration lawyer familiar with their situation.
“This also applies if you are given any documents to sign. That document may sign away your rights to a hearing or to remain in the United States,” Tsao said.
Just as important for those who do choose to answer questions, he said: “Don’t lie. Don’t make up excuses. Tell the truth.”
Tsao’s remarks were then translated into Arabic for the benefit of a large contingent of Muslims in the audience.
As Picon later noted, it’s not enough just to keep their mouth shut if they choose to remain silent. They must actually say that they are exercising their right to do so.
A woman who identified herself as Fatima later told the lawyers this recommendation is not practical because it runs counter to the instincts of members of her community, who are welcoming by nature and respectful of authority.
“It’s hard,” agreed Rebecca Ramirez of North Side Community Resources, who said the Latino residents she commonly serves face the same challenge.
Tsao advised immigrants to prepare for the worst.
“Know who is going to take care of your kids if you get arrested, or who is going to take care of your finances. Know where your important documents are,” he said.
It reminded me of what you tell someone preparing for a natural disaster or a terrorist attack.
I realize many people are cheering Trump’s immigration moves because this is exactly why they voted for him.
But I keep wondering about the others who voted for him who said they didn’t believe all his bluster.
How long are they going to remain silent?Tweets by @MarkBrownCST