Immigration laws hit home for students, prepare them for the future

A private attorney spoke at Northern Kentucky University Thursday, March 22. Her message: know your rights when encountering law enforcement. “Know Your Rights” was the name of her presentation.
Alexandria Lubans-Otto specializes in immigration law and criminal defense. She spoke for an hour about human rights in the United States, the DREAM Act and amnesty.

According to the Urban Institute website, in 2010 about 9.3 million undocumented immigrants lived in the U.S., and about 65,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools each year.
Lubans-Otto said no matter what the legal status of a person is, when he or she encounters law enforcement the person has the right to remain silent, the right to speak to an attorney and the right to deny to be searched.

Officers have to read people’s rights, and they don’t have the right to ask for social security numbers or the right to ask about people’s legal status. They also don’t have the right to utilize unusual punishment.

When speaking of undocumented immigrants, Lubans-Otto sited a complicated system. “Why don’t they [become citizens] legally? It is very easy for people to talk about immigration and not know how complex it has become,” she said. “It is incredibly complex.”

Lubans-Otto said people usually think about Immigration and Naturalization Service when they think about immigration because it used to handle immigration, but since 2001, immigration has been handled by four different agencies: the U.S. Citizenship, National Visa Center, Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice.
“All agencies are separate, sovereign and they don’t share databases. They have made immigration a nightmare,” Lubans-Otto said.

She explained that the DREAM Act would give individuals who entered the United States as baby or toddlers, who have assimilated and gone to U.S. schools, with no criminal records that are in school or in the U.S. military, a chance to apply for a green card without having to leave the states and to apply for financial aid.

“Fear sells,” Lubans-Otto said. She said the press is good at reporting drug cartels but it never talks about stories of the great undocumented people who need an opportunity. She said the DREAM Act was not passed by Congress because it lacks support from U.S. citizens and the press.

Jessica Vazquez, freshman sociology and social work major, is an undocumented student who last year on campus had an encounter with police.
“I wasn’t aware that those constitutional rights applied to us, too. Even when I had family in jail, they were never told that,” she said.
Ten students attended the presentation. The presentation was sponsored by Educating Latinos for Kentucky’s Future and the Latino Law Academy.