Know your rights.
That’s the topic many post-election community meetings with immigrants and refugees around Seattle, and around the country.
The gatherings aim to address concerns about discrimination, harassment and what immigrants can do if immigration enforcement becomes stricter under a Donald Trump administration.
“We have a lot of immigrant students at our school who are stressed out and worried about what might happen to their families,” said Crystal, a middle school teacher who attended a "know your rights" meeting Wednesday in Seattle.
Students "want to know things like, ‘What happens if the police come to my house?'” said fellow teacher Jessi. “They want more information and sometimes I can’t answer those questions for them.”
Crystal and Jessi both teach in Renton and asked to only use first names, to not draw attention to their classrooms.
Franklin High School in Seattle's south end hosted Wednesday’s meeting, which featured a panel of immigration lawyers and an official from Seattle’s Office of Civil Rights.
“You have the right to remain silent,” emphasized Jorge Baron, Executive Director of Northwest Immigrant Rights Project. It may sound simple but Baron says many people fail to follow the advice to remain silent and ask for an attorney.
Baron says clients have asked, "How did immigration know I’m undocumented?"
His reply: "Because you told them."
The lawyers also reminded families that law enforcement officers are allowed to enter your home only with a signed warrant. They also stressed that all residents in the U.S. have constitutional rights, regardless of immigration status.
Jeff Lam, assistant principal at Franklin, began the meeting with a reminder that it was not a political event and the school is non-partisan. He said some people had called in with concerns prior to the event, asking about his agenda.
“Our agenda is informational,” Lam said. “We want to connect people with resources and accurate information so that they can be prepared. As a school we have a vested interest that kids feel safe, comfortable, that they’re knowledgeable about what’s happening in the world.”
Lawyers on the panel said their advice is not intended to thwart cooperation with law enforcement but rather to help people prepare for these situations.
During the discussion, a question arose about the potential of a Muslim registry. On the campaign trail, President-elect Donald Trump talked about a way to track Muslims in the U.S.
“That would be wrong, repulsive and disgusting," said Patricia Lally, Director of Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights. “Every one of us should take a stand if this comes to pass.”
Baron noted that a similar type of counter-terrorism registry, the National Security Exit-Entry Registration System (NSEERS), was created after the September 11 attacks. Part of the program required men from select countries — many Arab and majority Muslim countries — to appear at local immigration offices and be fingerprinted.
In 2011, the Department of Homeland Security announced it would stop registering people in the NSEERS program.
But the program still poses a risk, Baron said. The regulatory framework is still in place and could be used again.
Civil rights groups are urging the White House to immediately take steps to prevent that.