Elva Madrid has seen what U.S. immigration policies can do to Garden City families.

This year, the owner of Hot Spot Events and Madrid Credit Repair said a client’s husband was deported. Earlier, she heard of two construction workers in the area deported after being stopped at a gas station. Officers had a warrant for one of the men, but the other was “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Madrid said. All three leave behind families, one of which is worried they will no longer be able to afford their home.

“Situations like that just opened up my eyes. I just want to make sure people are informed,” Madrid said. “I think a lot of people are scared. For a lot of people, their biggest concerns are, ‘What do I do if they do stop me?’”

A solution came Sunday evening in the form of a public seminar at Hot Spot Events, where Garden City attorneys Eloy Gallegos of Gallegos Law and Lucille Douglass of Calihan Law Firm tried to answer that question in all its complexities. Madrid streamed the session on Facebook and Liset Cruz of the Cultural Empowerment and Development Foundation translated the discussion for Spanish speakers.

The bulk of Gallegos’ and Douglass’ tips focused on interactions with police and immigration officers: what should residents do if they are stopped and asked for information?

There are different kinds of police stops, and citizens are not always required to stay with or speak to an officer, Douglass said. If a resident is unsure of the nature of the situation, he can ask the officer if he is free to go. If the officer says yes, leave, Gallegos and Douglass said. If he says no, stay.

In all situations, it’s important to comply with the officer to avoid any criminal charges, but compliance does not mean answering every question, Gallegos and Douglass said.

“Regardless of who you are, how you got here, what your status is, as long as you’re physically present in the United States of America, you have a constitutional right not to be required to answer any questions that might incriminate yourself,” Douglass said.

In most situations, residents are only legally required to tell officers their name and address, Douglass said. After they have disclosed that information, she suggested telling the officer they will not answer other questions until a lawyer is present, since answering some questions but not others could be incriminating or suspicious. Residents should never give an officer false information, she said.

Officers may ask residents for their date of birth, place of work, social security number, driver’s license number or legal status, but residents do not have to answer, Douglass said. They do not have to show officers their driver’s license or passport.

In some cases, officers can perform a pat-down search during stops, but they can't force a person to empty their pockets or lift clothes, Douglass said.

“It’s important to remember officers can lie to you. So, they can tell you have to provide them stuff that you really don’t,” Douglass said. “Any time an officer asks you if you will agree to let them do something, it’s always a good idea to assume they don’t have the right to and just say no.”

If officers move forward anyway, residents should not resist or fight, but clearly say they do not consent to the action, Douglass said.

If an officer comes to someone’s home without a warrant, residents do not have to let that officer in or hand over the person they’re looking for, Douglass said. Often times, officers will wait to find the person outside of the home, such as in town or on their way to work, rather than secure a warrant, she said.

From feed yard and meatpacking employees to business owners, Garden City’s economy is largely built on the work of immigrants, Madrid said. The city can’t operate without them, she said. Gallegos agreed. A large raid would hurt businesses and leave dozens to hundreds of children alone, likely without a system that could adequately support them. Supporting the area’s immigrants, both undocumented and documented, matters, he said.

Gallegos and Madrid said they both want to hold similar events in the future, potentially at area churches or other faith-based locations in and around Finney County, Gallegos said. He said he would also be interested in partnering with the City of Garden City, Finney County and other area municipal organizations.

“I’m interested in what do our public officials say regarding possible raids in our communities, how it would affect our communities and … where they stand on this. That would be an interesting conversation to have,” Gallegos said.”

For legal help or for more information on other educational events, call Douglass’ office at 620-276-2381 or Gallegos’ office at 620-277-7800. The Hot Spot can be reached at 620-521-3376.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.