Immigration Law Enforcement Fears Draw In Crowds To Local “Know Your Rights” Meeting

Hundreds of immigrants recently gathered at a “know-your-rights” presentation in Southwest Houston. More than 500 people met at a local Universal Church to hear from immigration lawyers and the Houston Police Department. 

Organizers passed out materials with information on what immigrants should do if they get into trouble with local or federal authorities.

At the presentation, panelists talked about what immigrants do and don’t have to reveal to law enforcement, especially under Senate Bill 4, the “show me your papers” bill, which Governor Greg Abbott signed into law in May 2017.

“When a police officer detains you for a mistake you made, a lot of people get nervous,” said Javier, who asked that his last name not be used.

He said the event helped him understand what personal information can stay private in interactions with law enforcement. He hopes to share what he learned at outreach events with his church. 

Houston Police Officer Rafael Pantoja fielded questions about whether officers can ask about immigration status under a recent state law.

“Every policy of every police department in Texas changed after SB 4. We had to allow police officers to ask the question if they choose to, [to] anybody they detained legally or arrested,” said Pantoja.

Pantoja said he takes every chance he can to clear up confusion around SB 4.

Advocates said there’s been an increase in “know your rights” presentations city-wide since President Trump was sworn into office.

The meeting, organized by lawyers in New York City, is one of several events planned in large cities throughout the country. Similar meetings were coordinated in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Phoenix and other locations. 

By ELIZABETH TROVALL for HOUSTON PUBLIC MEDIA

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