Catholic Charities conducts immigrant rights presentations

BRAINTREE -- In an effort to educate immigrants on their legal rights, especially in light of the Trump administration's new directives concerning undocumented immigrants, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston has been offering "Know Your Rights" presentations in locations across the archdiocese.

Catholic Charities' presentations are nothing new, said Marjean Perhot, director of the organizations' Refugee and Immigration Services, March 21, but the organization has been "doing a lot more of them in the community right now because of the (Trump administration) immigration orders that came out."

Held by the Catholic Charities' Legal Immigration Services, the presentations are split into three parts, said Perhot.

"The first part gives a brief overview of what was in those executive orders, the second part talks about legal remedies or legal benefits that a person might be eligible for, and the third part talks about what rights people have regardless of their immigration status," she said.

The final part also talks about "the importance of creating an emergency plan," an especially key component for those who "fear they might be subject to removal," said Perhot.

During the presentations, which have been held in Catholic Charities locations, including an office in Brockton and a teen center in Dorchester, attendees are also given "strong warnings" about "who is an immigration attorney and who is not."

One thing that presenters are quick to try to clear up is that notaries, unlike the "notarios" of many Latin American countries, are not attorneys and are not likely to be able to offer the assistance an undocumented immigrant might need.

"It's important that people understand that just hanging a sign out that says 'notary' or 'notario' does not mean that person is an authorized attorney to practice law. Furthermore, it does not mean that the person knows about immigration law, which is very, very complex," said Perhot.

"So, another factor of this is to let people know and understand who is a real attorney. Just because an attorney practices real estate law does not mean they are an immigration lawyer," she continued.

Attendees of the presentations are also given pocket-sized Know Your Rights cards, which feature information pertaining to the 4th and 5th Amendments of the constitution on one side, and six bullet points on the other.

A person's rights, such as the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney, are included in those points, as well as the message "I have dignity. I am not alone."

That message is important, said Perhot, "a lot of times our immigrants feel like they're less than, or second class citizens."

The bullet points are translated into one of eight different languages, while the presentations are given in the language or languages of the communities where the meetings are held.

Right now, Catholic Charities is working on plans to make the presentations more widely available, if they can find the available resources.

Another challenge is that the laws pertaining to undocumented immigrants and immigration have been changing "somewhat quickly."

"A lot of this stuff that is going out is very reactionary," said Perhot.

"In the past, there wasn't this urgent need to orient people as to their rights and as to what types of status they might be eligible for," she said.

She noted that people seem to be receiving the presentations positively, saying that she can sense that "people know they're welcome and supported by Catholic Charities, and by the Catholic Church as an extension of that."

Still, Perhot said, "people are nervous" about what the future may hold for them.

"People that have a Green Card, have no criminal convictions, and really should not fear being removed are still scared," said Perhot."And that's very sad."