On the 10th floor of Bronx Legal Services at 349 East 149th St., Segun Oguns was handed a 1-trip MetroCard and a red card, with three English/Spanish phrases he has the legal right to say in case Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or police officers were to show up at his door.
“This is really good,” Oguns, 48, said, turning the card over. “Most people in the community don’t have awareness of what’s going on, or what they could do to prevent deportation. Here, I feel safe to ask questions.”
Oguns, who arrived in the area more than 20 years ago from Africa, said that he is applying for citizenship, but has no idea where to start.
On Sept. 27, Oguns came to the third Bronx Immigration Partnership Clinic, hosted by the Bronx office of non-profit Legal Services NYC, to learn more about citizenship, his legal protections, and the meaning of “sanctuary cities.”
Oguns and 30+ attendees, legal immigrants and undocumented individuals alike, were handed the same cards with “Know Your Rights” information. They attended a workshop, where attorneys walked them through current immigration policies, executive orders (including the travel ban), and crucial safety precautions to take, in the event of an ICE-related emergency.
“We started these workshops soon after the election, because we wanted people to be prepared and informed about laws, which are changing all the time,” said Terry Lawson, director of the Family and Immigration Unit at Bronx Legal Services. “There’s a lot of confusion. Our biggest motivation for the partnership is to prevent fraud, frankly by bad immigration practitioners or notarios. If we don’t step up to provide information and outreach, vulnerable immigrant families can become prey to these bad actors, who will charge them thousands and get them deported.”
The grassroots collaboration Lawson helps oversee, The Bronx Immigration Partnership, brings together Bronx legal and social services providers to provide services centered around the needs of immigrants.
“We do our best to stay connected, listen to community members and their needs,” said Lawson. “That’s always been our primary motivation–to make sure people know we’re here, we’re free; give them latest updated information, and to talk to people about their rights.”
Fifteen volunteers were also present to go over legal documents that undocumented immigrants should have on file — such as work permits, passports/green cards/visas (if applicable), identification cards, birth certificates, marriage licenses, and medical information.
Meeting privately with each immigrant, volunteers went over important measures to take, such as having emergency contacts. They also provided a preparedness toolkit for families to look over and create a safety plan.
Helen Lemma, a healthcare policy worker, joined as a first-time volunteer, wanting to get more involved in the immigrant rights movement.
“A lot of my work in policy is geared towards Obamacare, making sure underserved communities have access to healthcare. That includes people who may not have immigration status,” Lemma, 28, said. “A lot of undocumented people fall through the cracks…and a lot need to know the legal process. Being in this training opened my eyes to the resources we have available in our city, that protect immigrants.”
Lemma shared that a Latina client she helped at the clinic, did not initially realize a judge’s warrant is required for ICE agents to enter her home.
“These officers come off as intimidating, and for someone who doesn’t speak the language well, you feel like you could get arrested if you don’t cooperate. So, it’s really important that undocumented people know their rights more than anything,” she said.
The story was updated on Oct. 3.