Immigrant rights and risks in a peaceful protest

| Jun 17, 2020 | US Immigration Law

The murder of George Floyd has sparked protests around the country. People in every state in the U.S. are marching in the streets and demanding an end to racial injustice.

You may be interested in joining the movement too. But as an immigrant, are your rights the same as American citizens’? Do you face any additional risks by participating in peaceful protest? Here are some things you should know.

Your rights

If you live in the United States, you have constitutional rights – even as an immigrant. This includes the First Amendment rights to free speech and peaceful assembly (i.e., protest).

Chance of arrest

While it is legal for you to protest peacefully, you still face a chance of arrest. In recent weeks, police have been arresting protesters with and without cause. Being arrested – even if you’re not charged or convicted of a crime – could jeopardize your immigration status. This can affect immigrants who are undocumented as well as legal permanent residents.

In addition, it’s worth noting that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have been sent to support the police at many protests around the country.

For any immigrant, regardless of legal status, there is a risk involved with coming into contact with the police, ICE or any other law enforcement officer – even if you’re acting within the confines of the law.

How to prepare

If you choose to attend a protest, it’s best to understand your rights and make a plan, in case you come into contact with the police:

  • At the protest, try to maintain a safe distance from the police.
  • If you are arrested, try to remember and record as many details as possible from the incident – including the officer’s badge number.
  • You have the right to remain silent. You do not need to answer any of the officer’s questions. Either tell the officer you plan to remain silent until you speak to a lawyer, or hand them a card explaining your decision.
  • The police may ask you for identification. However, you are not required to show them documentation that says what country you are from.
  • You have the right to refuse to let the officer search you and your possessions. (Note: they can pat you down if they suspect you have a weapon.)
  • It is a good idea to find an immigration lawyer you trust ahead of time. Write their phone number on your arm before you go to the protest (since the police may take your phone from you). Ask to speak to your lawyer. Don’t sign anything without your lawyer present.

The decision to join a protest is personal. As an immigrant, you have the same constitutional rights as anyone else to speak up for what you believe in. However, any protest can get out of control quickly, so it’s a good idea to have a plan in place – in case you need it.