Immigration Attorney Addresses Fear Among People in the US Illegally
BROWNSVILLE - Some people in the Rio Grande Valley said they’re worried as the Trump administration continues to roll out new executive orders.
CHANNEL 5 NEWS spoke to a woman living in the U.S. illegally about her fears. We also reached out to an immigration attorney who said people need to know their rights.
Cameron County resident Norma Zavala has lived in Brownsville for the past 16 years. She said she came to the U.S. without proper documentation after paying $500 to get across the border.
Zavala said a threat to her family is what forced her to seek refuge on the U.S.
“My kids have gone to school here. One of them is already an adult, and she’s in college in San Antonio… Well, our life here is stable,” she said. “I have my home, I have done something. I also help my community. I like helping people. I help ladies exercise. So, to be deported and leave my life that would be hard.”
Zavala admitted she has a felony on her record that has made it impossible for her to obtain legal status, although the rest of her family members are U.S. citizens.
She said she used someone else’s immigration documents to try to get across. She was caught at the bridge and deported. She was able to cross on her second attempt.
“I am scared. I do go out and stuff, but if I see a police officer or an immigration officer I get nervous,” she said.
Immigration attorney Francisco Tipton said the unauthorized use of identity documents is a tough felony to overcome when seeking legal status in the U.S. However, he said it may not be a dead end.
Tipton said the information on Zavala’s case first needs to be verified to see how the law applies to her case now.
“We try to get FOIAs. We try to look at the interview; we try to see what happened, whether the ICE agent made a mistake, whether it wasn’t a U.S. passport. It could’ve been a Mexican passport, which laws change a lot. The law is never clear cut,” he said.
More importantly, the immigration attorney said people need to keep in mind they have basic rights if they are faced with deportation.
“A lot of people don’t realize that they have the right to talk to an attorney. They don’t realize that they have a right to remain silent,” Tipton said. “They don’t realize that they don’t have to sign anything. There are a lot of human rights, whether you are here illegally or legally, that you are afforded those types of protections.”
Tipton said Zavala’s mistake is one of the toughest to overcome. He said she might have to consider other avenues for her to stay in the U.S. with her family.
“Look at other routes. Maybe she qualifies for a U-visa, maybe she was a victim of a particular crime,” he said.
Zavala is a certified Zumba and CrossFit instructor. Previously, she volunteered for nine years to lead exercise classes at a community center. She said she realizes her crime is severe, but is still hoping to get a second chance to stay.
“This is where I’m from. This is where my life is. It’s surreal to think that they could deport you. Then you ask yourself, ‘How can that be?’” she said.
President Trump has indicated the priority for his executive action on immigration is to get high-risk violent criminals out of the U.S. first.