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Local attorneys speak on ICE Raid’s effect on LOU Community

Approximately 680 people in Mississippi were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Wednesday as part of the largest single-state worksite raid in U.S. history.

The raids took place across the southern half of the state, in Morton, Carthage, Bay Springs, Sebastopol, Pelahatchie and Canton. From there, detainees were loaded onto busses and taken to a Louisiana facility for processing. The next day, nearly five busloads of people were returned to their families in Mississippi, but for many it’s a temporary arrangement – they will soon have to go to court and/or begin the process of deportation.

According to Pew Research Center, there are approximately 20,000 undocumented residents in Mississippi. Wednesday’s raid saw 3.4 percent of that population detained.

For Cliff Johnson, Director of the MacArthur Justice Center at the University of Mississippi School of Law, that’s a staggering statistic, one he claims Mississippians at a local level don’t want to see. It’s easy to picture undocumented immigrants as bad people, he said, but oftentimes, they’re really your neighbor down the street.

“While we certainly have people in favor of enforcing immigration laws, and those in favor of building a border wall, I don’t ever hear of Oxonians saying an immigrant is taking a job they want,” Johnson said. “We have all kinds of problems with race in Mississippi, but I don’t hear a lot of that rhetoric at the local level about local immigrants.”

Tommy Rosser, of the firm Mayo Malette, PLLC, is the only immigration lawyer in Mississippi who calls Oxford home. Rosser echoed many of Johnson’s statements regarding Wednesday’s events, and said it seems as though the raids were a cheap shot, aimed at people who are not the problem.

Rosser is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, or AILA, which is currently coordinating efforts through its MidSouth Chapter to offer counsel to those affected by the raids.

“Part of our concern as immigration counsel is, instead of focusing federal resources on individuals who are felons, they’re picking the low-hanging fruit like poultry workers and fruit pickers,” Rosser said. “The focus is in the entirely wrong area in terms of the individuals we need to worry about.”

Rosser and Johnson also pointed out that, while the recent raids focused on the southern half of the state, all undocumented immigrants in Mississippi are likely living in fear that they’ll be targeted next. 

Undocumented immigrants, Johnson explained, have to live essentially in secrecy. They have no access to healthcare and cannot call the authorities if they’re the victim of a crime. However, many do pay taxes through a tax identification number system set up through the federal government – something many people don’t realize. 

Regardless, undocumented immigrants often find themselves looking to underground networks of people for help, forming a community of resources. The secrecy becomes a security blanket, Johnson said – and Wednesday’s raids stripped 680 people of that security.

“Undocumented immigrants in Mississippi, or elsewhere, are always going to live a life of underground resources and support and isolation from other people,” Johnson said. “That’s the sad reality. I think the reality for undocumented residents in our local communities is that they remain anonymous and invisible.”

Rosser also pointed out that, while it’s easy for U.S. citizens to point the finger and say, “Why don’t they just become legal?” there is no convenient path to citizenship. The only solution? Wholesale legislative reform.

“Contrary to what some believe, (immigration lawyers) are some of the strongest advocates of strong borders,” he said. “But under our current broken immigration system, especially under this current administration, there is no real line these people can wait in. There is no option for individuals who leave these terrible places to obtain citizenship in a timely fashion.”

There are a couple of ways undocumented immigrants can seek help in the LOU Community, and educate themselves about ways they can protect their basic human rights, should they come in contact with immigration officials.

One way to seek counsel is to call HOLA, the Hotline for Oxford and Lafayette Advocates, at 662-915-2076. Individuals who call this number will be greeted by someone who specializes in immigration law, who can offer advice. Calling the number does not mean that the representative is your lawyer, but it does enable them to better understand the challenges faced by undocumented immigrants and to make better decisions regarding how they can help.

A quick search of the MJC Mississippi office’s website, www.macarthurjustice.org/mississippi, displays the various areas of expertise in which the organization specializes. There is also a link to a “Know Your Rights” pamphlet, which lists in both Spanish and English the legal rights people have regardless of immigration status. 

The brochure includes tips for respectfully interacting with ICE or other law enforcement agencies, when immigration status might be in question.

The pamphlet includes tips like: 

  • You have the right to remain silent and may say you wish to remain silent.
  • Carry a ‘know your rights card’ and show it if an immigration officer stops you.
  • Do not open your door unless an ICE agent shows you a warrant signed by a judge. They can hold it up to the window, or you can ask them to slide it under your door.
  • You have the right to a lawyer.
  • Before you sign anything, talk to a lawyer.
  • Always carry with you any valid immigration documents you may have (i.e. a work permit or green card).
  • If you are worried ICE will arrest you, let them know if you have children.

The brochure also includes instructions for creating a safety plan in the event one is detained – ensuring children have someone to care for them in their parents’ absence, memorizing the phone number of someone that can be called if one is arrested, and making sure loved ones can find out where someone who was arrested is being held through the ICE online database.

“Many of us in Mississippi grew up being taught in Sunday School that we should love the stranger because we were once strangers in foreign lands,” Johnson said in a recent statement. “What happened (Wednesday) flies in the face of those lessons. This is nothing more than mean-spirited political grandstanding.”

To access the “Know Your Rights” brochure and other helpful links, visit https://www.macarthurjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/38/2018/07/Immigration-Know-Your-Rights-Brochure.pdf.