Blog Archive

Friday, October 15, 2010

Illegal immigrants draft legal plans in case of deportation

By Alan Gomez
October 12, 2010

llegal immigrants nervous about stronger enforcement have started drawing up legal documents to spell out what they want to happen to their families and belongings if they are deported.

Attorneys in New Mexico, Arizona and Texas say illegal immigrants began approaching them for help preparing the documents as the national debate over immigration heated up in recent months.

"There's a culture of fear out there," says Jason Mills, a Fort Worth immigration attorney who was not asked for such help until this year.

Cecilia Menjívar, an Arizona State University sociology professor, says immigrant families started preparing informal plans in 2006, when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were conducting raids at work sites.

Children were stranded at school when parents were arrested at work, she says. If workers were caught on the street, relatives didn't know how to phone their employers. Wives couldn't get access to detained husbands' bank accounts. Menjívar says families began discussing who would care for children and preparing emergency lists: "People usually have the firefighters or police on that list, but in this case, it's people who can take care of the kids, the number of employers."

Mills says several things sent illegal immigrants to lawyers this year. Congress has failed to act on legislation that would legalize the status of some of the country's 11 million illegal immigrants. The Obama administration has increased deportations — a record 392,000 people in the past 12 months.

Most striking, Mills says, was the debate that followed passage of Arizona's immigration law, now on hold. It required police with reasonable suspicion to check the immigration status of someone stopped for another reason. It prompted more than a dozen other states to consider similar laws.

"People have gotten scared," he says.

A document drawn up by an illegal immigrant is as binding as any other legal paper, Mills says.

For people with few belongings, a notarized letter can be enough. For those who have money and property, Mary Ann Romero, an immigration attorney in Albuquerque, refers them to lawyers who specialize in wills and trusts.

In Phoenix, a group called Puente Arizona has developed an action plan that contains information about the person, bank accounts and property and designates who is responsible for the children.

Silvia Hernandez, 24, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, is five months pregnant. She is preparing documents to ensure that her partner, a legal U.S. resident, gets custody of her baby if she is deported, not the state foster care system. "I don't want my baby to go into the system," says Hernandez, a University of Texas at Arlington student.