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Be informed about your options.
As January 19, 2019 approaches, fear and uncertainty have begun to spread among the immigrant and undocumented population in Tennessee. Some families have relocated to other states, other families have decided to consult with immigration lawyers in the area, and still others are eagerly awaiting the immigration reform so longed for by many. Regardless of what your choice has been, it is unquestionable that you must be prepared for this date. Please, get well informed, and keep reading.
What is the Tennessee House Bill 2315?
The HB 2315, or Sanctuary City Law in Tennessee, controls or regulates the coordination between municipal and state Law Enforcement Authorities and the federal immigration authorities. On one hand, local police authorities cannot force their officers to refuse to cooperate with the federal immigration officials but, on the other hand, through this policy, municipal authorities that prohibit police officers from cooperating with immigration officials will not be eligible to receive funds or financial resources from the State.
How do we understand this law?
Prior to this law, in Tennessee, the police did not have to contact the immigration authorities when detaining or arresting an undocumented individual. And even after the arrest was performed, the immigration authorities had up to a 24-hour period to act against those people suspected of being undocumented in the state. Unlike in Nashville, undocumented people who were arrested in adjacent cities or counties could be released on criminal bail as long as this bond was paid before the 24-hour limit.
As of January 19, 2019, the police will have the discretion at the time of the detection or arrest of an individual suspected of being undocumented in the state to communicate or not communicate such arrest to the immigration authorities. If the law enforcement agencies do not cooperate with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), then they will not be able to receive the state contributions that are so necessary for their operation. Unfortunately, this makes it very likely that this discretion will be exercised in the federal government’s favor.
How can you prepare for House Bill 2315?
Although there is no crime considered an exception to trigger this communication between Law Enforcement officials and ICE, the police are much more likely to contact ICE when detaining or arresting undocumented immigrants who have committed serious crimes such as alcohol and drug related crimes.
The first thing you must take into account is that, if you have any relief or alternative to change your status from undocumented to documented, you must seek it out immediately. Whether you are married to a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident, have been a victim of crimes or Domestic Violence, or there is some other option to legalize your status in this country, this is the time to talk and consult with a knowledgeable immigration lawyer and start working on it. Lawful Permanent Residents who are eligible to apply for naturalization (citizenship) must act immediately. On the contrary, those who are undocumented who do not seem to have any option other than to wait for immigration reform should be alert and prepared.
In my experience as an immigration paralegal, the most common situations that have had adverse results have been of those who lack preparation. Preparation plays a very important role.
Here are some practical recommendations.
- Obey the law. Abide by traffic laws, including speed limits, traffic signs, and the requirement of having a valid driver’s license and insurance. Do not drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs. A DUI can get you arrested and, more likely than not, placed in deportation proceedings.
- Pay your taxes. If you do not have a social security number, it is recommended that you check with a tax professional to get advice as to what you may be able to do to get a social security number.
- Do not apply for government benefits. This holds true even if your children are U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. If you become eligible for an immigration benefit, having applied for these benefits could make you a “burden to the government,” which may result in making you ineligible for such immigration benefits. Victims of crime and domestic violence are exceptions to this rule.
- Keep a record of all of your important documents in one place. Documents that help prove your good moral character or show your continuous physical presence in the United States are important to keep in a safe place where you can access them. You may also consider asking for letters of recommendation from your pastors, employers, family members, friends, and landlords.
- Keep your medical records with you at all times. If you or one of your immediate family members (spouse, children, or parents) suffer from any serious illnesses or medical conditions, ask for these records from the physician or hospital and keep them with you in a plastic envelope at a place you can easily retrieve them. Scan these records and keep a digital copy in a safe place in your home.
- Open a savings account. Open this account in a bank and do not touch the savings inside. Deposit into this account periodically and keep a fund in case of emergency or if you are stopped or arrested. Consider using joint signature with a person you trust and give instructions in case you are absent.
- Consult a lawyer. Even if you believe that you have no relief to gain legal status in the U.S., it is highly recommended that you consult with an immigration lawyer. It is possible that there may be a pathway to legal status for you. Ask for advice.
Linda Bandry graduated as a lawyer at the Santa Maria University of Venezuela and currently works as a paralegal at COLE LAW GROUP. Linda has over 11 years of experience as an immigration paralegal.
Legal Notice: The information in this article is provided as general information only and may not reflect the law valid in your jurisdiction. None of the information contained in this article should be taken as legal advice from COLE LAW GROUP or its author individually or understood as a substitute for legal counsel in any particular area. No reader of this article must act or refrain from acting based on the information contained in it, or accessed through it, without having sought the appropriate advice of a licensed attorney in your state and country that can advise according to your circumstances and particular facts.