POLITICS
01/27/2017 02:26 pm ET

Civil Rights Organizations Urge Muslims To Get To Know Their Rights

With Donald Trump's troubling executive order threatening Muslims and immigrants, time is of the essence.

President Donald Trump is getting one step closer to fulfilling his controversial Muslim ban with an executive order that will restrict Muslim immigration and deny visas to people from countries his administration deems high-risk.

The document, which could still be amended before it’s signed, targets citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Iran. 

Americans across the country responded to Trump’s plans with a #NoBanNoWall campaign on social media. Hundreds more took to the streets of Washington Square Park in New York City to protest the ban.

Protests aide, the news has alarmed the Muslim community, and many are now wondering how the proposed order will directly affect them.

Civil rights organizations and Muslim lawyers have been sending out mass text messages and emails urging Muslims to speak to a lawyer so that they understand their legal rights.

“Many people don’t know what to do when confronted by law enforcement,” said Zahra Billoo, a civil rights lawyer and the executive director of the San Francisco office for the Council of American-Islamic Relations. “We want to get the baseline out and encourage people to get individualized consultations.”

Know there are a lot of legal resources in our cities that would like to help. Get your questions answered before just assuming.” Nermeen Arastu, CUNY School of Law

CAIR is one of a number of legal organizations working to equip Muslims with information about their legal status and constitutional rights. The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility project, also known as CLEAR, is another resource that emerged after Sept. 11, 2001 to provide legal services and address law enforcement policies and practices that target Muslims.

With the support of the City University of New York School of Law, CLEAR launched the “100 Days of Rights Campaign,” which hosts a “Know Your Rights” workshop for the first 100 days of Trump’s presidency. The program provides resources, training and free consultations to any community that requests it. It focuses on four topics: how to exercise one’s rights during police encounters, knowing one’s rights while traveling, concerns about informants in the community, and how to donate to charities amid complex federal laws.

Nermeen Arastu, a clinical law professor at CUNY School of Law and a lawyer with the CLEAR project, emphasizes how important it is for Muslim communities and other immigrant communities to understand their rights at all times.

Muslim communities, as [well as] many other immigrant communities and communities of color, are especially vulnerable because of their immigration status,” Arastu said. 

One of the major fears is that the pending executive order is just the beginning of more targeted actions against the Muslim community. “We need to recognize, among targeted populations, who is going to be targeted first ― and that is noncitizens and the undocumented. These [seven] countries are just the beginning.” said Billoo. 

But advocates also want people to know that help is available to them. “Know there are a lot of legal resources in our cities that would like to help,” said Arastu. “Get your questions answered before just assuming.”

Billoo agrees, advising Muslims and members of other vulnerable communities to “Reach out and organize a workshop, whether it’s through CAIR and the ACLU. There’s enough work to go around.” 

To find a local CAIR chapter, visit the organization’s website. To learn more about CLEAR, you can contact a lawyer through the project’s website or email cunyclear@law.cuny.edu.

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