Know Your Rights

Noncitizens' Rights Under the United States Constitution

  • The Fifth Amendmentgives you the right to remain silent: to not answer questions asked by a police officer or any other governmental official.
  • The Fourth Amendmentrestricts the government’s power to enter your home or workplace, or to search your car.
  • The First Amendmentprotects your right to speak freely and to advocate for social change. Realize that immigration officials can target you based on your political activities if you are a noncitizen and are deportable.
  • Immigration officials are now part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS has three sections:
    • The Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS).
    • The Bureau of Customs and Border Control.
    • The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

What to Do If Questioned by a Police, FBI or Immigration Officer

  • Think carefully about your words, movement, body language and emotions.
  • Do not argue with the officer.
  • Do not run. Do not touch the officer.
  • Do not resist even if you believe that you are wrongfully stopped.
  • Do not sign anything giving up your rights.
  • Do not falsely claim U.S. citizenship.
  • Do not carry false documents.
  • Do not sign any documents without first speaking with a lawyer.
  • An undocumented person should remain silent or tell the enforcement agent they want to remain silent.
  • Remember that once a conversation with a police officer is terminated, the officer must either arrest you or let you go.
  • Ask for a lawyer immediately after you are arrested.
  • Assert your rights. If you do not demand your rights or if you sign papers waiving your rights, the DHS may deport you before you see a lawyer or an immigration judge.
  • Never sign anything without reading, understanding and knowing the consequences of signing it. It is in your best interest to consult with an attorney before you answer any questions. You have the same rights as United States citizens under the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Different kinds of law enforcement officials might try to question you or ask you to agree to an interview where they will ask questions about your background, immigration status, relatives, colleagues and other topics.
  • There is an exception for individuals on student visas. Immigration officials can require you to provide information relating to your immigration status.
  • You have the right to have a lawyer of your choice present before you answer any questions. You have the right to stay silent if your answer to a question could be used against you in a criminal case.
  • Talk to a lawyer. If possible, carry with you the name and telephone number of an immigration attorney who will take your calls.
  • The immigration laws are complicated and are constantly being reinterpreted. As soon as you are contacted by DHS, call an immigration lawyer. There may be options for you that immigration officers will not explain to you. You do not have a right to a governmental appointed lawyer for an immigration proceeding, but if you have been arrested, immigration officials must show you a list of free or low-cost legal service providers.
  • If the police knock and ask to enter your home, you do not have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge. You have the right to examine the warrant first.
  • An officer may enter your home without a warrant if they observes evidence of a crime in plain view (i.e. through an open door, is in hot pursuit of a fleeing felon or reasonably believes that a person inside the room is in need of immediate aid).
  • If you consent to allow an officer to enter your home for any reason, anything the officer sees in plain view can be seized and held against you.
  • Officers rarely ask, “May I enter your room to look for evidence in plain view?” or “May I perform a full search of your person?” You must be aware of what is going on, and you must say whether or not you give consent. Be firm, clear and polite.
  • Everyone has the right to courteous and respectful treatment from the police. If your rights have been violated, do not try to deal with it at the scene. You can talk to a lawyer afterward or file a complaint.
  • Upon request show them your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. You must step out of the car if asked. If the police officer has a reasonable belief that the person stopped is presently armed and dangerous, they may conduct a limited protective frisk. The frisk must be limited to a search for weapons.
  • To protect yourself, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is not lawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.
  • If you are given a ticket, you should sign it. If you do not, you can get arrested. You can fight the case in court at a later date. Do not interfere with a search or obstruct the police; you can be arrested for it.
  • If you are suspected of driving under the influence (DUI) and you refuse to take the blood, urine or breath test, your driver’s license will be suspended.
  • Assert your rights. Tell the officer that you want to speak to a lawyer, then remain silent.
  • Do not sign any papers before a lawyer has advised you of the ramifications of signing and your rights and responsibilities under the law.
  • Criminal convictions can make you deportable. Do not agree to a plea bargain or any disposition of your case without consulting an immigration attorney on whether these actions will make you deportable or ineligible for relief of citizenship.
  • You must carry valid immigration documents with you at all times. Failure to carry these documents can be a misdemeanor crime.

Contact Us

Undocumented Student Resource Center
Northern Illinois University
Campus Life Building 230
545 Lucinda Avenue
DeKalb, IL 60115

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