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As an immigrant in the United States, you may feel out of place and vulnerable. However, since 1965, the U.S. has cobbled together several iterations of legislative reforms to create today’s immigration system, designed to offer some level of protection to foreign-born arrivals. Newcomers to America have become a crucial component to the country’s economic growth as our native-born workforce begins to age and retire. Therefore, it is very important that you know your rights as an immigrant in this country. We highly recommend you carry this printable card from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) should a situation arise that would require a reminder. And to learn more about the 6 legal rights you have as an immigrant in the U.S., check out our list below.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent
When encountering law enforcement or immigration officers, you do not need to disclose your immigration status. Remember to remain as calm and polite as possible and loudly declare that you choose to remain silent. Be sure to show your know-your-rights card to any officers you encounter to explain your rights further. You do not need to show any documentation about the country you are from, but do not display any fake documents either. Again, remain calm, be honest, and exercise your right to remain silent.
You Have the Right to Speak with a Lawyer
Should the situation call for it, by law you are entitled to legal defense. If you already have a lawyer, make sure you have your signed Form G-28 with you to show to law enforcement. This form, also known as the ‘Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative,’ provides information about your lawyer’s eligibility to act on your behalf and can be found on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. If you do not have a lawyer, you can request a list of pro-bono lawyers from any officer. Additionally, you are entitled to contact your country’s consulate to help you find a lawyer. Until you have consulted with your lawyer, it’s your right to refuse to sign any document.
You Don’t Need to Open Your Door
Unless law enforcement or immigration services can provide you with a valid written search warrant signed by a judge, they have no right to enter your home. A search warrant allows officers to search an area for evidence of a specific crime without the occupant’s consent. To obtain a warrant, officers must submit a signed and sworn document, also known as an affidavit, to a judge who then makes the final decision on issuing the warrant. Be aware that an ICE deportation warrant is not the same as a search warrant. An ICE deportation warrant does not entitle officers to access your home unless you verbally agree. Should the officers say they have a valid warrant, do not open your door until you have seen it first. Ask them to hold it up to a window or slide it under the door or through the mail slot for you to review. Make sure any warrant has your correct name and address and is signed by a judge. If your name and/or address are incorrect or it is not signed by a judge, the warrant is invalid.
If Stopped in Public, You May Refuse a Search
Law enforcement may stop you on the street to question you, but they have no right to search your belongings unless you are under arrest. You are not required to consent to any searches. However, officers are allowed to pat you down only if they suspect you are hiding a weapon. And again, you have the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer in these circumstances.
If at Work, You Still Have Protections
If law enforcement or immigration services approach your workplace, you can leave in a calm, quiet manner unless you are stopped and asked to stay. Additionally, these officers can only approach you in a public space, like a parking lot, dining room, or lobby. Immigration officers must ask for permission from the business owner or manager before entering your workplace. An officer is free to ask you questions about your immigration status only if permission has been given. Beyond public areas, you cannot be stopped, questioned, or arrested unless the officers have a judicial warrant. A judicial warrant, issued by a court and signed by a state or federal judge, is a written court order authorizing a law enforcement officer to make an arrest, a seizure, or a search of a private area, such as your workplace.
An administrative warrant, on the other hand, does not authorize ICE officers to enter or search a private area, such as your workplace; they can only locate you in a public place, such as those mentioned above. This type of warrant is a document signed by an ICE agent, not a judge, stating that a person is being designated for possible arrest and possible deportation proceedings. If the situation escalates or you are arrested, remember your right to remain silent and right to a lawyer. For more comprehensive information for you and your employer, check out this document from the National Immigration Law Center (NILC).
If You Need Medical Help, You Are Protected
It’s important to know that the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment limits the power of immigration enforcement. Medical facilities are considered “sensitive locations,” and immigration enforcement actions are severely discouraged in such places. Again, in a public waiting area, you are far more vulnerable, but in a private room, you have more protection. Law enforcement cannot locate you in a private space without a judicial warrant signed by a judge. Ask medical staff to request and review any warrant offered before allowing them access to your person. A very comprehensive breakdown of the rights and subtleties in medical care facilities can be found here.
If you equip yourself with the proper knowledge, you can feel relatively safe as you explore your newly adopted country of the United States. Though our immigration rights system is in need of review and reform, basic protections have been put in place to ensure you are treated fairly.
Need additional help? Though we do not provide legal services, our Resource Referrals service can help you find an immigration lawyer in your area should you need more information or legal assistance. Contact me today at firstname.lastname@example.org or call or text (866) 403–7173 to find out more. Remember, you are not alone!Laura Marenco
Founder of Golden Beacon USA, helping immigrants to the United States integrate into American society and thrive socially, economically, and civically.