Black Lives Matter: How You Can Safely Do Your Part

After the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and many other black persons at the hands of law enforcement officials, many individuals are taking to the streets in protest throughout the country and the world. Unfortunately, these efforts to fight for justice do not go without consequence. Immigrants are no exception. Here are some ways that you can protect yourself and others around you as you continue to battle for equality.

Although Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials say they are not arresting anyone during the protests, these claims do not always hold true, especially if you interact with law enforcement. In many jurisdictions, local law enforcement officials often collaborate with ICE. As such, it is important to remember that federal immigration officials are helping local police in many places to control protests, and although they claim that they will not make immigration-related arrests, nothing is set in stone. In fact, there has already been a suspected racial-profiling case in New York City. Make sure to determine if your local police department has any agreements or limitations with ICE before attending any protests. One of the best ways to stay safe is to plan ahead of time.

Additionally, here are some recommended guidelines for both citizens and immigrants to follow if you decide to attend:

  • You should know the event details. These can include the organizer, location, possible exit routes, medics/water stations, the contact person/people, and when you aim to leave the protest.
  • Try to stick with a group as much as possible. It would be best if everyone in your group carried the same form of ID so that you do not look suspicious for not carrying a certain type of identification. Ideally, you should try to bring at least one person who is a US citizen.
    • With your group, decide your level of risk – are you going to be on the front lines, in the back helping the medics, what do you want to do?
    • Make sure that you are prepared to be separated – have someone available to answer the phone if you are detained and write down a point person’s phone number to call in case of emergencies.
  • It is also important that you try to conceal your identity as a preventive measure.
    • Try not to post on social media – it is self-incriminating and government officials may also be able to see it.
    • Cover your face for the entirety of the protest. Remember that facial recognition exists, so try to use a mask that doesn’t reveal the shape of your face. Wearing sunglasses, or better yet, shatter-resistant goggles will also help to hide your facial features and keep your eyes safe.
    • Try to limit your interaction with the police or any government official.
    • Carry cash so that your location cannot be tracked.
  • Alongside technical suggestions for protests, make sure to be conscious of your medical needs.
    • Carry any prescription or emergency medication you need along with a basic first aid kit
    • Make sure to follow your local COVID-19 safety regulations as best you can.
    • Avoid putting on contact lenses, moisturizer, sunscreen, or other oil-based products because they can trap harmful chemicals on your skin and eyes. Stay away from wearing anything that can be grabbed such as necklaces or stray hair.
    • Carry milk of magnesia or alcohol-free saline for tear gas.
    • Make sure you try to cover up most of your skin with clothing to further protect from any harmful substances.
    • Wear comfortable and sturdy shoes.
  • You should also prepare for an arrest.
    • Write out area-specific hotlines in case you need aid.
    • Remember that if ICE approaches you, you can always ask “Am I free to go?” and if they begin to search you, you can say “I do not consent to a search.” Be aware that they may not look like ICE officers and could be in plain clothes. In any situation, remember that you have the right to remain silent and speak to an attorney. You never have to sign anything or share any information about yourself without your lawyer present.
    • Disable finger and face recognition on your phone and/or turn on airplane mode in case it is confiscated.
    • Be ready to identify who arrests you.
    • Find possible pro-bono attorneys available ahead of time, and identify bail bonds or other local organizations willing to help if anything happens to you. You should also connect with any past immigration attorney before attending.
    • As a general tip, it’s best not to admit to being foreign-born if questioned by law enforcement. As such, do not carry your EAD card, any form of false ID, any important immigration documents (i.e. work permits, DPS, etc.) or any type of foreign identification; depending on where you are protesting. Instead, you can use school , local or state-issued IDs as identification instead. If you only have your passport, remember that you can refuse to answer questions until your attorney is present.
    • Stop-and-identify laws and general identification laws vary by state, so it is important for you to know what your local laws are.

If you are arrested, it is likely that you can be arrested, charged and possibly convicted for the following:

  • Disorderly Conduct
  • Resisting arrest
  • Unlawful Assembly
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Violation of a Curfew
  • Obstructing Traffic
  • Assault
  • Beginning a Riot
  • Trespassing
  • Failure to Disperse
  • Obstruction to police

Depending on the state of conviction, there may or may not be immigration consequences so please consult with an immigration attorney who can advise on the immigration consequences of criminal convictions.

If you or someone you know is arrested, you should:

  • Know that you do not have to and should not consent to the police taking DNA swabs without a warrant.
  • Stay calm. Ask why you are being arrested or detained and if you are free to leave.
  • Call or ask someone else to call 1-833-3-GOODCALL (1-833-346-6322) and/or the National Lawyers Guild at 212-679-6018.
  • Document the information of the person/people making the arrest.
    • Names? Badges? What agency do they belong to? When and where is the arrest taking place?
    • If possible, record or take pictures of the arrest, making sure to focus on the officers and not the person who is being arrested. You can find more specifics on how to videotape an arrest here.
  • Remember that you do not have to answer any questions about your immigration status. If you are in NY or CA, know that the police cannot hold you for ICE, although your fingerprints will be shared with them.
  • Remember that you are not at risk of immediate deportation unless you are already in removal proceedings, and to not sign any documents for voluntary departure without speaking to an attorney. However, do note that non-citizens may be at increased risk of deportation if they are charged with offenses, even if those charges are later dropped.
  • Do give any probable cause for them to suspect your immigration status. If asked for ID, do not give any immigration-related or foreign identification. Make sure you do not incriminate yourself.
  • Call a lawyer as soon as you are put in jail. Keep in mind that the police can listen in to conversations with family or friends but are not allowed to listen to any conversations with your attorney.
  • Know that although the arrest may impact your immigration proceedings, the severity of the consequences will depend on your individual situation.
  • Ask yourself these important questions:
    • Did the police seem to discriminate between different races/genders/identities/etc.?
    • Were you mistreated in any way?
    • Were you arrested alone or with a group?
    • Did the police take your fingerprints? Do you have charges against you?
  • Try to delete any photos/videos or destroy your SD card if you are arrested.
  • Remember you have rights.
    • If any of your rights are violated, you should file a police misconduct report, call 800-341-2272 and/or send a complaint to your local civilian complaint review board. You can also sue for violation of your civil rights, however, these cases are often hard to win. Additionally, you should get any contact information from witnesses of the event and document what happened through photographs or videos.
    • If you feel that you are being discriminated against, contact your respective state Attorney General. You should consult an attorney before making a statement, as it may be used against you.
    • You can view ACLU’s website to find a state-specific app to record police misconduct.
  • Be vocal. Make sure the police know that you know your rights

If you have any further questions about being arrested as an immigrant, you can contact the Immigrant Defense Project at their Criminal-Immigration hotline, or call (212)-725-6422.

You should remember that aside from your rights as an immigrant, you also have rights, including the right to:

  • Speak out on public property without interfering or blocking the people that work there.
  •  To be treated the same as counter-protesters by the police.
  • To photograph/video anything you can easily see in public spaces under the First Amendment. (This may vary in private properties.)
    • The police cannot delete or demand to see your photographs/videos without a warrant. The police must have a reason to stop you from photographing/videoing. If they detain you, ask why or ask if you are free to go.
    • Keep in mind that although visual videoing is usually allowed, there can be restrictions on audio depending on your state.
  • To march and protest without a permit.
    • Police cannot order you to disperse without a reasonable explanation and if they do, you must be given the details of the order.
    • Keep in mind that you do not have the right to obstruct traffic without a permit.
  • To medical assistance.
  • Freedom from arbitrary arrest/detention.
  • To complain (about your rights being violated).
  • To freedom of expression and assembly.
  • To freedom from excessive use of force.
  • To be free of unwarranted searches and seizures
  • To remain silent.
  • To ask for your lawyer.
  • To know who is arresting you, and why you are being arrested.

You should also keep in mind that staying safe doesn’t begin or end when the rally does. You can protect yourself and the people around you by:

  • Avoiding interaction with any hateful accounts where you can accidentally reveal information about yourself or become an online target.
  • Making sure you switch to an encrypted text messaging app such as WhatsApp or Signal.
  • Activating the 2-factor authentication on any accounts where it is offered.
  • Removing any personal information from publicly accessible internet spaces.
  • Removing any saved passwords from your phone or browser.
  • Trying to keep your phone at home if you attend any rally.
  • Staying away from location tagging on social media or other platforms. If possible, set your phone to airplane mode.

Additionally, check out more resources and information here.

Photo Credit: David Geitgey Sierralupe

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