Everyone, regardless of one’s documented or undocumented status, has rights in this country, and a little red card handed out at an immigration information session last Thursday identified some of the more important rights immigrants should know as fears of deportation rise.

The size of a credit card, the red “Know Your Rights” card, written in Spanish on one side and English on the other, says: “I do not have to speak with you, answer your questions or sign or hand you any documents based on my 5th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution.

“I do not give you permission to enter my home based on my 4th Amendment rights under the United States Constitution unless you have a warrant to enter signed by a judge or a magistrate with my name on it that you slide under the door. I do not give you permission to search any of my belongings based on my 4th Amendment rights.

“I choose to exercise my constitutional rights.”

To drive home the point, Blanca Dixon, immigration program coordinator for the UpValley Family Centers, and Madeline Feldon, staff attorney and program director for the International Institute of the Bay Area, performed an enactment of the right and wrong ways to behave if an agent comes to your home. Feldon portrayed an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent who knocks on Dixon’s door.

“They won’t be that nice,” said Indira Lopez of Feldon’s portrayal. “When it happens it will be intimidating. It’s important to remain calm.”

Lopez, program director for the UpValley Family Centers, led the session that was held at the Community Center on March 16. Dozens, mostly Latina women, came to the session that provided information on the rights of both documented and undocumented people, tips on how to plan and prepare if challenged on immigration status, how to prepare children in the event someone is detained, and explanations of the difference between ICE and local law enforcement.

Lopez and Dixon were joined by Feldon; Salvador Alvarez, an advocate for victim witness assistance in the Napa District Attorney Office; Napa County Undersheriff Jean Donaldson, Calistoga police officer Luis Paniagua, and Mayor Chris Canning, who were all there to answer questions and reassure the community members that they have rights and they do not need to be afraid of local law enforcement.

Because Spanish was the first language of the majority of attendees, the meeting was conducted largely in Spanish, and English-only speakers were given headsets to hear Rosalina Cazares’ English interpretation.

Canning and Donaldson drew applause for their reassurances that Calistoga and Napa County in general are not interested in the immigration status of their residents.

No city department will ask about someone’s documentation status, Canning said. They may ask your address, but “we only care if you live in Calistoga. The fact you live in Calistoga enables you to all the services” the city offers, he said.

“If you have a service issue, a problem with your street for example, do not hesitate to call. We are here to serve you. We work for you,” he said.

Donaldson added: “We’re here to protect your rights.”

Paniagua urged residents to get to know the local police officers. They are in the community to serve and protect, and if you get to know them you’ll feel more secure. If someone does knock on your door and claims to be an ICE agent, you’ll feel more comfortable reaching out to the local police to ask for help.

“Remember (police) can’t share information about you with ICE,” Lopez said.

Calistoga police will not ask someone about their immigration status during a traffic stop or other routine interaction, Paniagua said.

Alvarez and Feldon stressed that they do not want people to be afraid of the local police, especially in cases where a resident might be a victim of crime.

Rumors have swirled in the area about ICE agents lying in wait to arrest immigrants either at schools or outside apartments or work places. Lopez urged residents not to repeat or share that kind of information unless it is known to be true. Call the UpValley Family Centers and ask if a story is true and accurate before telling someone else what you’ve heard, she said.

ICE agents have been in Napa County, but not nearly as often as rumors have been spread, speakers said. They told the group that, generally speaking, ICE is most interested in people who have committed crimes, which may include DUIs.

A question-and-answer period followed the conclusion of the presentation.

One woman asked about a scenario where she might be pulled over while driving but didn’t have a driver’s license. She wanted to know if her car could be taken away because of that.

Paniagua explained that police may give her a ticket for driving without a license and the car may be impounded for three days, but police cannot ask about immigration status, and that has no bearing on owning a car.

Another woman asked if an employer can allow an ICE agent into their workplace. Feldon said an employer can allow an agent in to a workplace, but they cannot report the immigration status of an employee to local state or federal agency, because that is considered a violation of a worker’s rights.

UVFC has staff available to answer questions or provide information, and they have handouts with other resources in the office as well. Useful websites to note include the National Domestic Violence Hotline, TheHotline.org (or 800-799-7233, 800-787-3224), PolarisProject.org, ICEOutofCA.org, and ImmigrationLawHelp.org.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor