The audience at the Know Your Rights workshop at Sullivan High School on Sunday afternoon Credit: courtesy Alderman Joe Moore

“We recommend that lawful permanent residents from countries affected by [President Trump’s] executive order don’t travel outside the United States,” Irakere Picon, a staff attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center, told an anxious audience on Sunday afternoon at a workshop at Sullivan High School in Rogers Park that was intended to inform immigrants of their rights.

It was a chilling reminder that the freedom of immigrants, even immigrants who have received their green cards, have already been curtailed by the Trump administration’s policies.

Sunday’s workshop was preceded by an hour’s worth of speeches from a series of prominent Chicagoans, including Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, Senator Dick Durbin, and Jesse Jackson, who assured the audience, with the help of an Arabic translator, that the Democrats were planning to fight the January 20 executive order, which halts entry into the U.S. for nationals of six primarily Islamic countries for 90 days, refugees for 120 days, and Syrians indefinitely. After the dignitaries left, the immigrants stayed to find out what, exactly, their rights were and how to defend them—and if they were, as they feared, in danger of deportation.

Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, assured the 100 or so people who remained that the Constitution guarantees certain rights to all people living in the U.S., not just citizens.

“In the Bill of Rights, the first, fourth, and fifth amendments apply to everybody,” Tsao said. “It specifies that people should be safe in their homes. It offers protection against unreasonable searches. You have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney. If [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] or any law enforcement comes to your door and starts questioning you, you do not have to answer the questions.”

But, Tsao warned, it’s important to know how those rights work. If law enforcement presents you with a warrant, they may have the right to enter your house, but that warrant must be signed by a judge, not a supervisor or fellow agent. “If you open the door to let the agent in, it gives them the right to search the entire home and question everyone in the home,” he said. “You have the right to ask them to show you the warrant. Ask them to slide it under the door or hold it up to the window to check if it’s a proper warrant that’s been signed by a judge.”

Tsao also advised visa- and green card-holders to plan ahead, to arrange for someone to take care of their kids and their finances in case they get arrested, and make sure they have legal aid. And finally, he said, “report incidents so we know about them.”

Picon, the National Immigrant Justice Center lawyer who is himself an immigrant and beneficiary of the DACA program, clarified that executive orders don’t become laws until they’ve been passed by Congress. The problem with executive orders like the one from January 20, he said, is that no one is sure how they will be implemented. But immigrants still have protection under the law, and they should not be afraid to consult lawyers at the NIJC or ICIRR. They should also practice the English sentence “I emphasize my right to remain silent.” Picon made everyone in the audience repeat it several times.

During the question-and-answer period, Picon and Tsao reiterated that the reach of the executive order is still unclear, but until the law is changed, noncitizens can only be deported on very specific grounds. Nonetheless, said Picon, “Lawful permanent residents from the seven countries [targeted by the executive order] were detained at airports yesterday. We don’t know if that will continue going forward. In the meantime, do not travel.”