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April 9, 2017

Noblesville parish hosts ‘Know Your Rights’ session for immigrants

Angela Adams, an Indianapolis attorney specializing in immigration issues, speaks during the recent “Know Your Rights” information session. (Photo by Jennifer Backs)

Angela Adams, an Indianapolis attorney specializing in immigration issues, speaks during the recent “Know Your Rights” information session. (Photo by Jennifer Backs)

By Father Thomas Metzger

NOBLESVILLE — Our Lady of Grace Parish in Noblesville hosted a “Know Your Rights” informational session for immigrants on March 26.

As a result of recent executive orders by President Donald Trump concerning refugees and immigrants, there has been an expressed need for immigrants, both authorized and unauthorized, as well as those who interact with them at church, work and school, in the neighborhood and in the community, to learn more about federal and state laws as they apply to immigrants.

The purpose of the session, which took place after the 1:30 p.m. Spanish-language Mass at the parish, was to provide that information, especially as it applies to immigrants in encounters with officials representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The purpose was not to instruct people in how to break the law, but to instruct them in their legal rights.

In the Dec. 11, 2016, edition of The Catholic Moment, Bishop Timothy Doherty wrote: “The recent elections and public news have caused concern and fears in the hearts of members of our communities. Many undocumented parents are afraid of being deported or separated from their U.S. citizen children ... I authorized the Office of Family Life and Hispanic Ministry to distribute information about the legal rights you have and can claim, even if you are not citizens ... We do not promote anything illegal, but we want those people who have rights and responsibilities to be able to enjoy them. And we want to live in human and Christian solidarity with those whose lives are endangered because of uncertain status, threats of violence or unnecessary separation of parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters.”

The decision to conduct the “Know Your Rights” information session at Our Lady of Grace, one of many held in the Indianapolis area and around the state, was based on the spirit and intent of Bishop Doherty’s Dec. 11 column.

The session was presented by the Immigrant Welcome Center of Indianapolis. The primary presenter was Angela Adams, an Indianapolis attorney specializing in immigration issues. Adams, who is bilingual, conducted the entire informational meeting in Spanish. Approximately 80 people were in attendance. The executive director of the Immigrant Welcome Center, Terri Morris Downs, also spoke briefly about the work of the organization.

Attendees were instructed that they have certain specific rights, whether or not they are citizens, and whether they are in the United States legally or illegally.

For example, if stopped by police, a motorist has the right to remain silent (and should tell the officer if this right is being invoked.) Police may not search a vehicle without the driver’s permission, unless the police suspect that the car contains evidence of a crime.

If ICE agents come to a house, the resident has the right to refuse entry unless the agent has a search warrant or an arrest warrant, signed by a judge. (A federal warrant for removal or deportation is different from an arrest or search warrant, and does not give the officer the right to enter a home.)

Adams also encouraged attendees to be proactive in preparing for possible future emergencies or crisis situations. Elements of this preparation would include making contact with an immigration attorney, registering with the nearest consulate from one’s home country, making a family plan about what to do if a family member is arrested, detained or goes missing, and keeping copies of all immigration documents and other important papers, such as passports, work authorization, birth certificates and others.

Participants were instructed to memorize certain pieces of information, including phone numbers for the attorney, the consulate and family members, date of entry into the United States, current immigration status, etc.

Adams also spoke in some detail about “Standby Guardianship Designation” forms.

Many in the immigrant community have been led to believe that in signing such a form, parents could totally lose custody of their children. In fact, these forms designate an alternate standby guardian on a temporary basis, in the event that the parent is arrested, detained or removed/deported.

The session included a question-and-answer phase, during which participants were able to address more specific concerns and receive clarifications for their personal situations.

The parish hopes to collaborate with the Immigrant Welcome Center or another entity to schedule a legal clinic for immigrants, providing them with assistance in addressing the legal requirements mentioned in the information session.

Father Metzger is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish in Noblesville.

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