“Know your rights” has become a hashtag, and for good reason. Where your civil and constitutional rights are questioned or threatened, you have to, at a minimum, know what those rights are.

But this isn’t enough. It does no good to know your rights if you’re not going to use them.

Yesterday, one client I met with had been arrested (and then released) by ICE when he was out taking the trash – they were looking for someone who looked like him. Another raised a family here and had tried numerous times to obtain lawful status, but was misled by a “notario” who filed a frivolous petition for him. I also heard from a law enforcement officer who indicated a third client’s citizenship application was “in a holding pattern” and wanted to “ask some follow up questions” to move things along.

Fear kills your intelligence. It’s hard enough to know the right thing to do. That’s what we lawyers try to do: we try to figure it out for you. Make a plan. We want to empower you to “tome su caso en sus proprias manos” – take your case into your own hands. But that means it’s not enough to just know your rights. You have to use them, claim them.

I know that’s a lot easier said than done, but knowing your rights is only the first step. Using them is what really matters. Your rights don’t apply only when the FBI calls, or when ICE arrests you. They exist around you, all the time. You might be undocumented – but have an asylum case like the first client. You might have tried numerous times before, but then discover you have a U visa case, like the second client. And you have a right to have a lawyer present when law enforcement contacts you, like the third client.

You shouldn’t wait until ICE knocks before using your rights.

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