Noncitizens won’t be informed of their rights before questioning, says Obama administration

Salvador Santoya Juarez, an illegal immigrant from Mexico answers questions from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer Scott Hamelin. After Santoya was stopped for a traffic violation by Escondido Police, an ICE agent was called to the scene. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

Under a new decision by the Board of Immigration Appeals made last week, immigrants arrested without a warrant will not be read their rights until they are placed in formal deportation proceedings. The decision (PDF) reversed a 1980 precedent which affirmed that immigrants have to be informed of certain Miranda-like rights before they can be questioned by immigration officials.

Melissa Crow, director of the Legal Action Center at the American Immigration Council, said in a press release, “The Board’s ruling renders the advisals practically meaningless and makes immigrants less likely to remain silent when questioned and less likely to assert their right to counsel.”

The new decision makes it harder for immigration attorneys to successfully file motions to suppress evidence acquired while violating an immigrant’s rights. Such motions are being used more often in deportation cases, which are themselves occurring at record levels.

Although people arrested for immigration violations don’t have “Miranda rights” per se, arresting immigration officers were required to inform immigrants of their right to an attorney and that anything they say can be used against them. Now, Crow told TAI, that protection is rendered less effective because officials can inform immigrants of their rights after they have taken incriminating statements from them.

In theory, the decision only affects arrests by federal immigration officials. However, Secure Communities, the new Immigration and Customs Enforcement program in which local law enforcement give the fingerprints of people they arrest to federal immigration officials, would give the decision a particularly “insidious” effect, says Crow.

That’s because under the decision, immigrants can potentially give incriminating testimony to local police well before federal officials place them in deportation proceedings on the basis of Secure Communities.

The Justice Department has recently drawn praise from immigrant rights advocates for their lawsuits to block the Arizona and Alabama immigration laws. However, this new decision by the executive branch suggests that, as TAI has previously reported, the Obama administration’s position on immigration enforcement deviates considerably from what civil rights and immigrant rights groups would like.

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