Know Your Rights Trainings Aim to Support Immigrant Community

You do not have to open the door or let anyone in. You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to speak to a lawyer. You do not have to sign anything you do not understand.

The rights outlined above are covered in a typical Know Your Rights workshop at Erie Neighborhood House, a hands-on training to support undocumented immigrants and their loved ones fearful of an increased Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) presence and deportation efforts under the Trump administration.

“Unfortunately their fear is real,” says Elva Serna, community engagement specialist at Erie House. Serna formerly coordinated the agency’s technology education program but entered what she calls her “dream job” when the demand for immigration-related resources rose dramatically earlier this year.

According to Serna, Erie House is assisting with these Know Your Rights workshops as often as a dozen times each week. “Our community is so scared in this anti-immigrant climate,” she explains, noting that the agency and volunteers in its Community Navigators program reached 774 individuals last month. “Undocumented immigrants often don’t know where to go or what to do to protect themselves and their families.”

The workshops are meant to address this knowledge deficit. “If they know their rights, they will be able to manage the situation,” says Serna.

Some common questions at the workshops include where to find low-cost, trustworthy legal representation; how to develop an emergency plan in case of detention or deportation; and how to designate guardianship for children and dependents.

Undocumented immigrants often don’t know where to go or what to do to protect themselves and their families. If they know their rights, they will be able to manage the situation.

– Elva Serna, Community Engagement Specialist

“We are doing everything in our power to equip individuals and families in our community with the knowledge and resources they need,” says Erie House executive director Kirstin Chernawsky. “We have worked alongside our immigrant neighbors for 147 years here at Erie House, and we are determined to continue standing in solidarity with them through these difficult times. It’s core to our mission.”

She cites participation in the new One Chicago campaign as a way Erie House is stepping up its game and praises Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City Council for affirming the city’s commitment to standing with immigrants and refugees. The Community Navigators program is funded through the One Chicago initiative, giving organizations like Erie House even greater reach in the city as they seek to support immigrant residents.

“Our Community Navigators receive specialized training to provide quality immigration information and services in an empowering and effective way,” says Serna. “Once they are trained, they are able to host and present the Know Your Rights presentations to our community members.”

The next workshop Erie House will host is part of a larger, comprehensive resource fair to be hosted in Templeton Hall (1347 W Erie St) at 4:00 pm on Friday, June 9. In addition to the standard Know Your Rights training, participants will receive information on guardianship, developing an emergency plan, mental health resources and securing financial assets. They will also be able to meet with representatives from the consular offices of Mexico and Ecuador.

The event is being organized by the Parent Leadership Team at Erie House.

In addition to the workshops, the Erie House Citizenship & Immigration department offers comprehensive immigration consultations at three BIA-recognized sites. Walk-in appointments are held on a first-come, first-served basis during specified office hours.

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