Immigrant rights advocates used the arrival of International Human Rights Day December 10 to launch a week of efforts assisting immigrants who may not be aware of their rights when contacted by law enforcement. As part of "Know Your Rights Week," which that day, advocates handed out one million cards in seven languages describing the basic individual rights guaranteed by law.
"We are providing empowerment tools for our immigrant communities," said Rev. Alexia Salvatierra, executive director of Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice.
"The best protection against human rights violations is to know one's rights."
The business-sized cards were blessed by interfaith leaders participating in the effort. The cards advise the holder of his or her right to remain silent when arrested; the right to an attorney; the right to request a hearing in front of a judge, and the right to not open a door without a signed warrant.
"This is for all immigrants, not just the undocumented," said Carolina Guevara, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
In particular, the groups who put on the event "expressed their concern for immigrant communities that live in fear of workplace raids and the separation of families because of a lack of comprehensive immigration reform," according to a statement released last week.
Cardinal Roger Mahony, head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, participated in the National Commission of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency Misconduct and Violations of Fourth Amendment Rights this year. The civilian-drive commission took testimony of alleged unreasonable search and seizure during operations conducted by ICE. Those officials contacted at the time maintained the legality of their actions. Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for ICE, said that anyone who felt their civil rights had been violated by officers during an operation should report it to the authorities for investigation.
"We hold our officers to the highest standard," she said.
"Clearly, there are those who believe that our immigration laws need reform ... but as long as those laws are on the books, it is our duty to enforce them. We will do so fairly, humanely and professionally."
Kice also took issue with the characterization of any ICE operation as a "raid."
"We don't do raids. We do `targeted enforcement actions,"' insists Kice. "A raid suggests that these are random," she added.
The agencies involved in Know Your Rights Week included the Office of Justice and Piece of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Catholic Charities and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. The groups also held a "Know Your Rights Forum" Monday at the Holman United Methodist Church.