Xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment have been increasingly apparent in United States culture and in the media recently. Stoked, in part, by politicians seeking reelection, fear of immigration impacting the culture and economy in the United States has led to enforcement crackdowns at the border and across the country.
This crackdown has created a serious social divide that has a chilling effect on many immigrants. Concerns for their safety or ability to stay in the country may prompt some to waive or ignore their basic rights. However, that approach does very little to protect you or the people you love.
Knowing your rights as an immigrant, whether you have documentation for your stay in the country or not, can help keep you safe if you find yourself facing any kind of criminal issue, ranging from an arrest by local law enforcement to detention by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
You have the right to a hearing and to an appeal
Anyone arrested for an immigration issue will have the right to make their case before a judge. Whether you hope to seek asylum because of political unrest in your home country or believe that your initial arrest was part of a racial profiling incident, you have the right to your day in court.
If court proceedings don't go well or you believe that your rights were violated by the court, you also have the right to appeal the initial decision and your treatment by the court. Understanding your rights as a documented or undocumented immigrant is not easy, particularly if there is a language barrier.
That is why it is important for immigrants to receive sound legal advice before making any decisions about their employment, housing or legal status.
You have the right to hold an employer accountable for dangerous work conditions
All too often, it seems that companies are willing to take advantage of undocumented workers by paying them mediocre wages or subjecting them to unsafe working conditions. Immigrants without documentation may be so worried about the legal repercussions of any issues they experience that they don't stand up for their own rights.
A job site injury is a perfect example. If you get hurt at work, regardless of your documentation status, you have the right to seek workers' compensation and hold your employer accountable if a dangerous work environment contributed to your injuries. Too many undocumented workers do not invoke these rights, often out of fear for reprisal by the company they used to work for.
Once again, as with immigration decisions, it is important that injured immigrant workers receive adequate legal counsel after an injury. Understanding your rights is the first step toward invoking them and standing up for yourself. The legal system in America does have many protections in place, provided that you know how to access them properly.