Legal Observer Protocol

For further information, check out under "From Raids to Deportation, a Community Resource Kit."

Legal observers should:

  • Assign roles to each observer: videographer and notetaker
  • Bring a camera, video or still, a notebook, a cell phone, a contact list
  • Use your three magic phrases:
    • 1. “I am here to observe, I do not intend to interfere.”
    • 2. “I do not consent to a search.”
    • 3. “Am I free to go?”
  • Each note entry should begin with the time and location.
  • Stay at least 10 feet away from the interaction, and do not distract the officer or the arrestee.
  • If someone is arrested or abused, try and get their contact information and the contact information of any witnesses.
  • You have the right to videotape the police and ICE, and do not have to give them your camera or your tapes.
  1. Gather info on HOW ICE enforces the law: providing good hard facts (videos and notes) to lawyers– this is what is often lacking. Witnesses in immigrations cases are often deported, detained in unknown places, or afraid to testify: our data can fill this in.
  2. Make careful notes to show if immigration officers have based their arrest on skin color, language, or name (see above). For example, if an agent spends 30 seconds on the corner before deciding to make an arrest/action, this is not enough time for them to have a legal probable cause. Questions relating to people's ethnicity, nationality, language, etc. are also tip-offs that should be noted.
  3. Ask officers: "Do you have a warrant for this person's arrest?" This is good data to collect: ie, if 12 arrests occurred, none with warrants, we could point to a pattern of abuse.
  4. If we have any evidence, lawyers can go to a judge before someone is removed to a detention center on the other side of the country, and say to the judge, ‘no, don’t move this person to another circuit. They have to have a trial.” Portland, in the 9th circuit, has better judges and this is one of our best options for intervening.
  5. Teach day laborers the three magic phrases:
  • “I do not consent to a search”
  • “I do not wish to talk to you. I want to talk to a lawyer.”
  • “Am I free to go?”
  • These can be said in English or Spanish (ICE officers will probably speak Spanish). Saying these phrases might prevent officers from collecting information without probable cause— info is often collected by cops who are “fishing”—through “casual” conversations that give them the probable cause they need.
  1. Just be there: arrests could be worse if there wasn't an observer there.
  2. Unfortunately, violation of search and seizure laws by immigration officers can't be enforced. (Again, this is because immigration law is civil, not criminal, law.) Only in cases of outrageous behavior by federal agents (detaining people without food, etc) can you press charges against federal agents. (These charges, in the best cases, might lead to the suppression of evidence obtained under duress, etc).