Know Your Rights

Non-Citizens' Rights Under The United States Constitution:

  • The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent -- to not answer questions asked by a police officer or any other governmental official.
  • The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s power to enter your home, workplace or search your car.
  • The First Amendment protects 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 non-citizen 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 and The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

What To Do If Questioned by the Police, FBI, or Immigrations Officers

If You Are Stopped By The Police...

  • 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.

Know your rights in your home...

  • 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 he or she 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.

If you are stopped in your car...

  • 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, he or she 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 breathe test, your driver’s license will be suspended.

If contacted by a DHS agent...

  • 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, immigrations 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 you are charged with a crime...

  • 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 have the duty to carry valid immigration documents with you at all times. Failure to carry these documents can be a misdemeanor crime.

If you are arrested...

  • 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.

Students’ Legal Assistance
Campus Life Building, Room 120

Division of Student Affairs
Funded by the NIU Student Association

Contact Us

Sandy López
Coordinator for Undocumented Student Support
Academic Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Campus Life Building 230

Virtual Hours

Monday-Friday: 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. by appointment only

View graduate assistant office hours.