7 things families with immigrant members should know

March 03, 2017
Miguel Lopez, 11, sits down near the front of the “No Ban, No Wall” rally at the Capitol on Feb. 25. (Tamir Kalifa/ AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

Recent U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement operations have raised renewed concerns among families with members who are living illegally in the country or fear losing their immigration benefits. Here are seven things that families with mixed immigration statuses should know:

1. Know your rights. Regardless of immigration status, everyone living in the United States has basic rights. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), you have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions about your status or country of origin during encounters with authorities.

2. See a lawyer and save money. If you have doubts about your immigration status, go see a lawyer. Attorney Claudia Baellow said immigration lawyers have seen more people than usual in the past few weeks. Lawyers are also recommending families to start saving money in case a relative is detained and they need to post bail.

3. Keep important documents at hand. Keep evidence that can quickly prove how long you’ve lived here in a secure place. Make sure to keep all your documents in order and in a folder accessible to a trusted person. This includes legal documents relating to immigration, copies of identification cards, emergency numbers and birth certificates.

4. Assign a caregiver. The Texas Family Code has an agreement that authorizes family members who are not the parents to make important decisions in the life of a child. This document does not take custody away from parents, but rather authorizes the designated family member to make certain decisions related to the minor.

5. Speak openly with your children. Kids might get bullied regardless of their immigration status, or if they don’t have the proper context, they might come to the wrong conclusions about their family’s situation. Take into consideration the child’s age, and speak openly and truthfully to them.

6. Seek counseling. There are many organizations in Austin that offer low-cost counseling services for immigrant families, including American Gateways, El Buen Samaritano Episcopal Mission or Refugee Services of Texas-Austin Service Center.

7. Schools are considered safe zones. Schools are among the so-called “sensitive locations” that ICE has determined should generally be avoided. Other locations include certified daycare centers, medical treatment centers, religious temples, places where ceremonies take place like weddings or funerals, and protests or political rallies.