Over the years, immigrants have held various roles in American society. Whether a worker, entrepreneur, or political figure, immigrants are entrenched in American culture and provide significant contributions to the country’s development.
As of 2019, immigrants accounted for 14% of the total U.S. population, or 44.9 million, according to the American Immigration Council. Additionally, the organization says one in seven American residents was born outside the country.
Despite these numbers, immigrants remain to be one of the most vulnerable populations in the country. They’re not keen on seeking essential social services, particularly legal assistance, likely due to the following unfounded beliefs.
Myth #1: Immigrants Don’t Have Constitutional Rights
The U.S. Supreme Court states that the Constitution covers all individuals in the country, including those who may have entered unlawfully. Hence, even undocumented immigrants have the same fundamental rights enjoyed by American citizens. They have the right to fair treatment, the right to privacy, and the right to access education services, among others. Non-US-born citizens also have specific rights in the workplace and shouldn’t be restricted from practicing their religion and free speech.
Myth #2: Immigrants Don’t Have The Right To Sue
Even if they are non-native, any individual who incurs life-threatening injuries and other severe forms of injustice may take advantage of immigrants right to sue. Personal injury cases, medical negligence, and insurance claims are some of the complaints that may be filed before the courts.
In some states, undocumented immigrant workers may be eligible to claim disability insurance and workers’ compensation. Simply put, a person who sustains injuries because of another party’s negligence may take matters to court, regardless of their citizenship or immigration status.
Myth #3: Immigrants Who File A Case Will Be Deported
This is one of the most common misconceptions that prevent immigrants from seeking legal assistance. However, U.S. immigration law enforcement bodies can’t deport an immigrant who’s decided to file a case. Doing so may put these entities in hot water, with the court seeing it as a potential case for obstruction of justice. Thus, the agency will have to wait for the legal proceedings to finish before springing to action in most instances.
Myth #4: Immigrants Don’t Have The Right To Due Process
While government bodies have the right to investigate and question an immigrant, deporting an immigrant without legal processes violates the law. Thus, immigrants facing deportation must go through the following proceedings:
- Receive proper legal notices for a hearing
- Participate in a hearing presided by an immigration judge
- Be represented by a private immigration lawyer
- Have access to an interpreter (if they are a non-English speaker)
- Have the opportunity to study the evidence and witnesses presented by the government
Overall, the government must establish compelling evidence that the grounds for deportation are valid and lawful. For the sake of fairness, it should be ensured that the immigrant is able to understand all the proceedings.
Myth #5: The Legal System Doesn’t Accommodate Non-English Speakers
While the law stipulates individuals’ right to communicate, some states prevent government agencies and workers from providing language services to immigrants. The so-called ‘English Only’ rules limit language services in a few states where it’s applicable. This has formed misconceptions about legal services being exclusive to native speakers.
When it comes to immigration proceedings, however, immigrants are entitled to language services. Immigration courts determine the immigrant’s primary language and provide the necessary assistance during legal proceedings.
Myth #6: Immigrants Can’t Have Access To Legal Counsel
While the courts aren’t allowed to appoint an immigration lawyer, it doesn’t mean that non-US citizens can’t have access to competent counsel. The State Bar may provide an immigrant with additional information on accessing legal services in their area. Additionally, non-American citizens may seek the help of private immigration attorneys to improve their chances of winning a case.
Myth #7: Immigrants Don’t Have Access To Free Legal Services
Most non-US residents don’t have enough financial resources to pay for legal services. Instead of shunning representation, immigrants may approach non-profit legal aid groups or private lawyers who may represent them either at low costs or pro bono.
Caution should be taken though, as some unscrupulous individuals use immigration issues to scam people. These persons pretend to be legal representatives and ask immigrants for money in exchange for nonexistent services.
Immigrants are considered vulnerable because they often have limited access to essential social services and are unaware of their fundamental rights. This holds not only in the U.S. but around the world as well. With basic awareness of immigration laws and access to language services outside the courtroom, non-natives will have better chances of overcoming these challenges.