I want to recognize how hard this week has been, how hard the weeks have been for you.
I want to recognize how much the news has been hurting, how fear and doubt and confusion has affected your sense of belonging in the United States as an immigrant. As someone who was able to accept and love for the first time in your life here, whose home is here as determined by where your community and your heart is, no matter what your papers say.
So many within our communities have spoken to me this week to tell me they’re scared. That there are a lot of rumors out there and they’re not sure what’s true. That they think everything good that they found for themselves here—documents in their preferred name and correct gender, an application for immigration status—is going to be reversed or taken away.
Please know that there are some things the law will not let anyone take away from you. There are some things that your community will fight to the ends of the earth to make sure that no one in power, who has never met you or known you, can take them away from you.
There has been a lot of change in immigration policies in the last few days. Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP) will release a series of blog posts to address these, to make sure you are getting correct information about how a change affects you and other people in your life, and which laws protecting immigrants are staying the same. But as we start to engage in that learning process with you, we want you to remember: Breathe. You are the strongest person you know. And you are surrounded by support.
For now, hold onto these immediate tips, and share them with other immigrants:
1. Make an emergency plan that you and your closest loved ones know to take if something terrible happens, like an arrest or an encounter with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE). Sometimes, the idea of creating an entire plan feels overwhelming, but a compact plan, with just the essentials, may be something more approachable that we all can prepare for ourselves and for each other.
Who are the people who should know immediately if something happens? Your roommate, your immigration lawyer, your caseworker? Write down their phone numbers. Can you also write down the phone number of your doctor and a list of the medications you take? This could all go on a bright-colored post-it or card, and you could keep a copy in your wallet, a copy in your home, and give a copy to your lawyer. Ask for help creating this plan if you need it. Your community and allies are here and willing to step up.
See this Make the Road NY guide for more ideas!
2. Did you get a legal name change and not get around to updating your immigration work permit? Your benefits ID? Social Security information? Other IDs? Let’s make sure we get that done so that you aren’t hindered by lack of documentation of who you are when you continue to fight for all of your rights. And encourage other transgender, gender non-conforming, and intersex (TGNCI) people in your life to update identity documents that don’t reflect their preferred name and correct gender as soon as they are comfortable.
But remember that you do not need to feel unnecessarily rushed or pressured. No laws or regulations regarding IDs have changed yet. And nobody actually knows if or when any such laws will change. But exactly because we don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s best to be prepared. If you feel comfortable, go through SRLP’s guide for updating your own documents with a friend. Talk to your immigration lawyer and remind them what IDs still need to be updated. And if you need help, don’t hesitate to reach out to SRLP.
If you have already updated your IDs with the correct name and gender, you should reassure yourself that those IDs are very likely to be safe!
3. Protest strategically! SRLP supports our communities naming the Islamaphobia and xenophobia that oppresses the Muslim community, as Muslim immigrants are forced into immigration detention and hyper-policed, and our siblings who are TGNCI and Muslim are thrust into ever greater depths of fear. Only you can decide how to express your sorrow, anger, and solidarity, when you too are vulnerable to attack, prejudice, and targeting. One way is to come to SRLP for our weekly membership meetings every Tuesday from 6-8pm to come together and resist against hate. We don’t always have Spanish-language support, so if you want to attend and want an interpreter, you can always reach out to me in advance by calling (212) 337-8550 ext. 305 or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you decide to attend in-person rallies or marches, you should feel reassured that many such actions that are attended by many people and organized by many organizations and agencies working with each other are safe, if you go with friends or with support people at immigrant organizations that you are a member of. But always remember to take care of yourself and each other in those moments. If there is a fight or confrontation breaking out, whether with other rally attendees or police officers, you don’t need to be the person to stay to bear witness. Instead, move away from police officers and leave the area as quickly and calmly as you can. If you can’t leave the area safely, try to get the attention of a legal observer who may be seen wearing bright green caps. Their job is to watch police activity to ensure they are complying with the law, and they can ensure that what is happening to you is documented. For more information, see SRLP and National Center for Transgender Equality’s Participating in Direct Actions: A Guide for Transgender People.
4. As always, please be careful of arrests, and review your rights and tips for when you are forced to deal with the police. Remember if you can to do your best to stay calm, not to sign any documents that you don’t understand, and to ask for support from others—friends who are with you, your immigration lawyer via phone, even bystanders who are sympathetic. If you are having difficulty understanding what is happening because an officer or other government official doesn’t speak Spanish, it is okay to say, in English or in Spanish, “I don’t understand. Do you speak Spanish?” over and over again, until they listen to and acknowledge that you are confused and scared.
SRLP sees and hears the TGNCI community when you tell us that you and your loved ones are routinely stopped by the police for walking on the streets, for taking the subway, while transgender, gender non-conforming, while black and brown. We acknowledge that educating ourselves to know our rights when dealing with cops feels like an obligation for survival that we never asked for. But we also believe in strength in community and confidence in our collective resilience. We believe that we will win when we all love and support one another.
It’s time to take care of each other, to be informed about your changing rights as an immigrant, and to keep daring to hope, no matter what the world throws at us. I’m honored to be behind you as we get to work.
Legal resources for the TGNCI community from other organizations:
- Free LGBTQ Legal Clinics by the Anti-Violence Project on Feb 8 and 15 and Mar 1 and 4
- For a constantly updating calendar of free LGBTQ legal clinics held at many other NYC organizations, click here
- Trans Immigrant Defense Effort (TIDE)
If you are a trans or gender nonconforming immigrant and want to contact TLC with any immigration law-related questions or concern, please call 510-587-9670 or email Staff Attorney Alison Pennington (pronouns: she/her) at email@example.com.
Sei Young Pyo, Director of Immigrant Justice Project