Saturday, May 27, 2006

How many pro bono lawyers does it take to . . . .

How many pro bono lawyers will it take to deal with the situation described below? What will happen when these "undocumented immigrants" become felons? We all need to take a deep breath and try to visualize what is going to be happening very soon with respect to law enforcement, individual rights, and civil liberties. Are we really willing to pay the price for the supposed benefits?

NEW YORK – As the immigration reform debate heats up in Congress, rumors of immigration raids have spread widely in immigrant communities. Consequently, undocumented immigrants have tried to stay under the radar, many of them avoiding going out because they fear the raids. Immigration lawyers are advising immigrants to keep in mind that immigrants, documented or undocumented, have protected rights under the United States Constitution.

Chen Pei-Yi, a New York attorney who is running for District 2 judge, said that before any immigration reform bills can take effect, the Senate and the House of Representatives must first reconcile their votes.Chen said, however, that undocumented Chinese immigrants often don’t know their basic rights. When they are questioned by the police, their lack of knowledge often results in deportation. Undocumented immigrants should know that they have the right to remain silent as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution when questioned by the police.

In many states, people questioned by the police are required by law to give their true name, but only a judge can order a person to give more information. When questioned by the police, Chen advised, the less you say, the better. Chen also emphasized that any law enforcement must have a search warrant to search private property. The search warrant should show the reason for the search. If a police officer does not have a search warrant, people can refuse to be searched. However, police officers can search any person’s clothing to see if he is holding a weapon. In such a situation, Chen advises that people retain witnesses who can testify that the person was searched against his or her will.

Whether documented or undocumented, everyone has the right to see a lawyer, Chen said. The police must stop questioning if a person requests to see a lawyer. Chen advised people to carry the contact information for their lawyers.

If a police officer stops you, Chen said it is important to put both hands where the police officer can see them. If you feel ill or are injured while stopped by the police, you must request medical help and get contact information from witnesses at the scene. Chen said that many Chinese who don’t know English might be pressured into signing documents that they do not understand, thinking that if they signed, then they can go home. But signing these forms might have serious consequences. For example, you might inadvertently give up your right to see an immigration judge.

Chen emphasized the importance of seeing a lawyer to make sure that you understand the forms. Although undocumented immigrants do not have the right to a government-provided attorney, immigration officials have the legal obligation to provide a list of pro-bono lawyers who can help undocumented immigrants.


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