Immigrants urged to be prepared

Fear rippled through a group of Latino parents in suburban Atlanta when a friend was deported to Mexico and temporarily separated from her two young, U.S.-born children. The kids weren't able to immediately join her because she and her husband hadn't gotten passports for them.

More than nine months later, anxiety about being taken from their children is still palpable among the members of the support group for Spanish-speaking parents – most of them undocumented – of children with Down syndrome.

To guard against such separations, social workers and activists are urging undocumented immigrants to put together emergency kits similar to the kind emergency officials encourage people to keep in case of fire or natural disaster.

“Information is power,” said Sonia Parras Konrad, a lawyer in Iowa who helped undocumented immigrants in the wake of a raid at the nation's largest kosher meatpacking plant in May. “If they know their rights and are prepared, they can be more in control of their lives and what happens to them.”

The immigrants' kits include passports for U.S.-born children, contact info for an attorney, information on their legal rights and other material that can keep families together or help relatives retrieve a last paycheck.

While having all the proper documents in order, knowing one's rights and drawing up careful plans of what to do in the event that a family member is detained won't likely prevent a deportation order if a person is here illegally, it can provide some peace of mind by ensuring that families know what to do.

After a raid at the Smithfield Foods Inc. slaughterhouse in Tar Heel, N.C., and at homes in surrounding counties last August, the Hispanic and Latino Division of the North Carolina Academy of Trial Lawyers put together a roughly 40-page document in Spanish and English that instructs undocumented immigrants on how to put together a Prepare for Action Kit, or PAK.