“Know Your Rights” Information Session Aims to Ease Concerns of Immigrants

Hamra Ahmad speaks on stage at immigration Q&A. (Photo: Loren Baron)

by Cassandra Tejeda


The “Know Your Rights Immigration Information Session” was a Q&A event curated by Hamra Ahmad, executive director of Hudson Valley Justice Center, in the Gateway Auditorium on March 1.

The Benefits Access Center sponsored this event as a result of the current immigration reform that has caused a lot of fear and confusion within the US.

During this Q&A many topics were discussed, starting with explaining how ICE operates along with clarifying who is most likely to be a target of deportation.

Anyone working in an environment with many illegal immigrants, individuals with a criminal record, and those working with fake social security numbers are could be susceptible to raids.

During the event there was a moment of ease when Ahmad exposed the reality of our current immigration reform.

“Immigration knows about people who are here without status, they don’t have the time or the resources to go after everybody,” Ahmad said.

Ahmad tried to ease the concerns of anyone who is undocumented and cautioned against making quick, rash decisions.

“Last week I had to go to court for a misdemeanor ticket of aggravated driving on a suspended license…it was the scariest thing I’ve dealt with in my entire life, I thought I was going to be deported,” said a student, who declined to give their name.

The student also explained how they were scared by a lawyer that deportation was a possibility and that representation by a traffic lawyer would be in their best interest. With no money to pay the lawyer fees, arriving to court was nerve racking. However, ICE was not waiting in the courtroom.

According to Ahmad, the media-created fear has lead many people to “pay thousands of dollars for a lawyer.”

The fear undocumented immigrants feel is obvious.

“People are afraid to get help, I think that is one of the issues,” said Debra Santora, Head of the Benefit Access Center.

She talks about what a struggle it was to invite people to the event. She was met with much hesitation by many that she approached.

“Say as little as possible…don’t sign anything,” Ahmad said. “You are making it easier for them to do their job.”

Ahmed touched on the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which is an American immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit, adjustment of status, how to deal with ICE and whether you should apply for a green card depending how you entered the US.

Handouts were passed out on how to deal with ICE and what your rights are, along with a pamphlet of the Hudson Valley Justice Center. They offer free consultations on matters regarding immigration, housing and change of status. At this moment the Hudson Valley Justice Center is at capacity with cases but still offers phone consultations and referrals to other programs that are free or low cost.

“I felt a lot better after…she [Ahmed] explained how ICE operates and they don’t just take people away,” said Santora.

The reality of the situation for many is not every undocumented person is a target at this moment. The focus is mostly on people with criminal records, people who are working on a fake social.

Ahmed does have hope for the future of immigration policy.

“We have a better chance during the Republican administration to get change than we did in the last eight years,” said Ahmed, when the discussion of Ronald Reagan’s 1984 Immigration Reform and Control Act came up and whether amnesty to immigrants could happen again.

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