What do to when ICE comes knocking?: Know Your Rights

September 12, 2017
Beata Leja
  • What should you do if you are stopped by immigration officials and asked about your immigration status?
  • What are your rights if you are sent to immigration court?
  • What should you do if there is a raid at work?

Now more than ever, immigrants of all kinds have questions about how to navigate encounters with the criminal and immigration court systems, how and when to exercise their rights, and what to do to protect themselves and their families. The following is a general overview of your rights as an immigrant, specifically relating to your status as a non-citizen in the U.S. For questions about your rights as an employee, click here. For specific questions or concerns, please contact one of our immigration attorneys at Minsky, McCormick and Hallagan, P.C.

General Tips:

  • Immigration Status:
    • Never claim to be a US citizen if you are not; this has very negative consequences in immigration law.
    • Never lie to an immigration official. When speaking to an official, do not lie about your immigration status or present false documents. These acts are illegal and carry serious consequences.
    • Generally, you have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions related to your immigration status, place of birth, etc.
      • You may not have this right at certain locations, such as within 100 miles of the U.S. border, or at airports.
  • Emergency Contacts and Plan:
    • Memorize the phone numbers of a few trusted people (family, friends, your immigration lawyer).
    • Give a trusted person a copy of your all your immigration documents and your “A” number, if you have one. Your A number, or USCIS number, is an 8 or 9 digit number that can be found on your green card, documents from USCIS, or the registration number on your visa stamp. If you are arrested, knowing your A number will make it easier for your family to find you.
    • Make an emergency plan in case you are arrested, including plans for who will care for your children.
  • Care for your children:
    • Consult with an attorney about guardianship, which is court authorization for someone to care for your child, permanently or temporarily, if you are not around or available to do so.
  • Avoiding Arrests:
    • Obey traffic and criminal laws. Many immigration arrests stem from traffic stops, and even a simple violation could give officers an easy pretext for your arrest.
    • DO carry a valid state ID and/or work permit. Many states require you to have valid identification.
    • Do NOT carry any false/fraudulent documents that do not correspond to your identity. If arrested for any reason, DO consult an immigration attorney prior to pleading guilty.

If you are stopped by the police, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or the Federal Bureau of Investigation:

If an officer asks about your immigration status, you have the right to remain silent. This means you do not have to answer questions about your immigration status, where you were born, or how you entered the country. (Certain exceptions apply if you are at an international border or airport, and for certain individuals on some nonimmigrant visas). Tell the officer you wish to exercise your right to remain silent. You may also give the officer this card to assert your right to remain silent.

If this is a criminal matter, you are entitled to a free lawyer. Do not discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. Do not sign anything or answer any questions until you have spoken to your lawyer. Be sure to ask your lawyer about the effect a criminal conviction or plea may have on your immigration status.

If immigration agents come to your house:

You do not have to let them in unless they have certain kinds of warrants. You can ask agents to slip their warrant under the door or hold it up to a window so you can see it before opening the door. A proper immigration warrant is signed by a judge (not just an immigration officer) and has your correct name and address on it. If the agent has a valid warrant of removal or deportation, the person listed in the warrant may choose to step outside the house and close the door to speak with the agents. You still have the right to remain silent and to prevent them from entering your home without your consent.

If your workplace is subject to an ICE raid:

Don’t run away and don’t resist. If you feel like you need to leave, you may calmly walk toward the door. If an officer stops you, ask “Am I free to go?” However, do not try to leave if the officer says no.

If an ICE officer asks you to stand in a group according to immigration status, you do not have to move or you can move to a neutral area. You still have the right to remain silent and if you wish to exercise that right, you should say so out loud to the ICE officer.

If you are in immigration proceedings (you have been told to appear before the immigration court):

You have a right to have a lawyer. But the government does not have to pay for your immigration lawyer (this is different than criminal court). You must either pay for your own private lawyer or obtain a lawyer through a non-profit organization. Whether or not you have a lawyer, you must appear at all of your court dates, or you may be ordered deported in your absence.

If you are detained in immigration detention by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE):

You have the right to contact your consulate or ask an officer to inform your consulate of your arrest. You also have the right to contact a lawyer, although the government does not have to pay for your lawyer. You may exercise your right to remain silent at any time. Do not discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. Do not sign anything without talking to a lawyer, and be sure you fully understand the contents of anything you do sign. Sometimes immigration officials can ask you to sign a deportation order, so make sure you understand what you are signing.

Generally, you have a right to see an immigration judge who will make a decision about whether you can stay in the U.S. (meaning that you qualify for and show that you deserve some form of immigration relief) or whether you will be ordered removed (i.e. deported). If this is the case, you will be issued a Notice to Appear. This is a charging document in which the government explains why it thinks you should be removed from the U.S.

But not all immigrants are able to see an immigration judge. You will likely not be sent to court, and instead be processed for deportation, in the following circumstances: a) you were arrested by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) at a border checkpoint, near the border, or at an international airport; b) you were deported before, and then you illegally reentered the U.S., and you have now been detained by ICE; c) you are undocumented and have been convicted of an aggravated felony (this is a special term in immigration law and does not mean all felonies; check with an immigration lawyer). In these cases, a different procedure will likely apply to you. Remember to always tell the officers if you are scared to return to your home country. (See about asylum below for more information).

Note that U.S. citizens cannot be placed in removal proceedings and cannot be detained by ICE. U.S. citizenship law is very complicated and you may be a U.S. citizen without knowing it; if you think you may be a U.S. citizen, you should consult with an immigration lawyer at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

If you fear return to your home country because someone wants to harm you, you may qualify for asylum:

You should always tell immigration officials if you fear that you will be harmed in your home country. If you fear returning home because your country’s government, or someone the government cannot control, wants to harm you for a specific reason, you may be eligible for asylum or withholding of removal. Asylum and withholding of removal have very complicated legal requirements and procedures, so consult with a lawyer if you think you may have a claim.

To see if you qualify for some kind of immigration status, or to explore your options and rights more, you can consult with an immigration lawyer at Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

The material contained in this alert does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only. An attorney-client relationship is not presumed or intended by receipt or review of this presentation. The information provided should never replace informed counsel when specific immigration-related guidance is needed.

© 2023 Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C. All rights reserved. Information may not be reproduced, displayed, modified, or distributed without the express prior written permission of Minsky, McCormick & Hallagan, P.C.

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