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Immigrants: work with experience legal counsel to fight criminal charges, deportation efforts

When an immigrant is charged with a crime, it is important for the immigrant to understand that he or she has legal rights. Not only do immigrants have legal rights associated with the criminal case, but they also have legal rights associated with the deportation process.

The concern, of course, is that immigrants convicted of a crime will be subjected to deportation. While this does happen in some cases, working with a criminal defense attorney who understands immigration law, or with an experienced immigration lawyer separate from the criminal case, can help ensure the chances of deportation are minimized.

First of all, immigrants have certain rights in deportation proceedings. Immigrants have the right to: contact their consulate; obtain a court interpreter; have a hearing with an immigration judge to determine if they are able to fight their case; be represented by an immigration attorney, without charge in some circumstances; and to obtain a list of available legal services.

Another important right is the right to remain silent. Immigrants do not have to answer questions put to them or to sign documents placed before them by ICE officials. Having an attorney can ensure that federal officials don't cross any lines in their attempts to gather information from an incarcerated immigrant, and that they don't take advantage of an immigrant's lack of knowledge of the legal process and their rights.

If ICE requests a detainer, it is smart to ask for a copy of the request to verify its authenticity. ICE has only 48 hours to act on the detainer. An attorney representing an immigrant will help determine whether it is possible to have the detainer lifted, which may be possible in cases where an immigrant: is mentally ill or has another serious medical condition; was a victim or a witness to a crime; is the sole wage-earner for his or her family, the sole custodian of minor children, or has extensive family ties with legal status in United States, has lived in the United States a long time, or is particularly active in the community.

Navigating the criminal and immigration process is not easy for immigrants, and having a zealous advocate is critical to ensure their rights are protected. Immigrants who need assistance should get in contact with an experienced attorney as soon as possible in the process to protect their rights and to minimize their chances of being deported. 

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