Do Immigrants Have Civil Rights?

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Overview of Civil and Constitutional Rights of Immigrants in America

Civil rights are fundamental rights all citizens possess under government laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination based on protected characteristics, such as race, age, religion, gender identity, sex, sexual orientation, immigration status or citizenship status, or language and national origin.

These rights are not exclusive to citizens but extend to immigrants, a vital facet rooted in the American historical struggle for the rights of marginalized groups.

To safeguard your freedom, irrespective of immigration status, it’s imperative to recognize, understand, and assert these human rights. This article provides a comprehensive walkthrough of various aspects of civil rights, addressing key aspects that every individual, including immigrants, should be aware of. For inquiries about Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Houston, TX, contact Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys At Law.

Do Immigrants Have Civil Rights?

The short answer is yes. Immigrants possess certain rights, particularly in critical constitutional provisions such as due process.

Since the nation’s inception, over 55 million immigrants have settled in the US, entitled to the same rights and protection as all individuals, albeit with certain limitations. For example, voting and political participation aren’t granted to immigrants. The Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families only protects the migrant’s right to join elections in his country of origin.

Civil Rights Afforded to Immigrants

Freedom of Speech

While the US Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t differentiate between citizens and non-citizens, Supreme Court precedents introduce distinctions. Undocumented immigrants seeking entry receive lesser First Amendment protection than permanent residents due to their lack of legal right to enter the United States. They can only fully enjoy their right when legally situated in the US.

Some limitations to immigrants’ rights regarding freedom of speech are:

  • Security in political expression

  • Associating or giving support to groups labeled by the US government as terrorists

Due Process of Law

The phrase “due process” is found in the Fourteenth Amendment to the US Constitution. It was added to safeguard the rights of formerly enslaved people who were emancipated during and after the Civil War. It also applies to non-citizens and many immigrants who enter or plan to immigrate to the country.

The extent of “due” process hinges on the circumstances, allowing those who illegally entered the country and got deported to appeal the decision. However, Congress can make limited procedures considered constitutionally sufficient for the detained non-citizens. An immigrant can be deported without a hearing, an attorney, or the right to appeal under certain circumstances. This process is called expedited removal. It applies to undocumented migrants detected within a hundred miles of the border and two weeks of entering the country.

Equal Protection Under the Law

The Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the state from denying “any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of laws.” The term “person” encompasses both US citizens and resident aliens.

The federal government must have a valid reason for any official action or law that treats groups of persons differently. The reason must be compelling for certain classifications and fundamental rights, with actions narrowly tailored. For other distinctions, a rational basis is required.

Other Civil Rights Immigrants Are Entitled to

Beyond these fundamentals, immigrants possess the right to legal counsel, access to education, protection against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to work.

Right to Legal Counsel

Although the Sixth Amendment guarantees counsel for defense in criminal prosecutions, this right is typically not applicable in most deportation proceedings, which are civil. The government will only be required to provide counsel if the person is accused of a felony. Illegally crossing the border is considered a misdemeanor.

According to the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, undocumented undocumented immigrants who commit crimes while in the US or overstay in the US for more than 180 days are subject to severe penalties. If you or a loved one is an undocumented immigrant who is facing alleged violations of the immigration law, speak with an immigration lawyer immediately.

Right to Education

Under the Fourteenth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled in Plyler v. Doe (457 US 202 (1982)] that undocumented immigrant children should have access to free public education. The Flores Settlement Agreement ensures minimum educational standards for detained children.

Right Against Unreasonable Search and Seizure

The Fourth Amendment protects both citizens and non-citizens against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, an important caveat is called the “border search exception.” Therefore, searches performed at the border as part of customs enforcement are not unreasonable since they happen at the border.

Right to Work

Immigrants, regardless of status, can earn minimum wages and overtime pay set by the US Department of Labor, join worker unions, and benefit from health and occupational safety regulations. Whistleblower laws will also protect you if you report your employer for violations.

What to Do When Your Civil Rights Are Violated

Civil rights violation is any offense committed based on being a member of a protected category. Violations may result in injuries or even death. The offender may be punished under specific criminal statutes. For example, the Federal Fair Housing Law covers discrimination during the sale or rental of housing. If you have a reason to believe that your rights as an immigrant have been violated, speak with a trusted immigration attorney to know more about your legal options.

Why Choose Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law?

As an immigrant, you have several civil rights that shield you from discrimination and government overreach. Although the law already guarantees protection, in practice, it can’t be denied that civil rights violations persist, especially in Texas.

If you feel your rights have been violated, our team at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, is here to help. We are adept in the following areas of practice: deportation, seeking asylum, immigration appeals, and many more.

Our focused and customized approach has helped several families navigate complex immigration laws. Contact us for a consultation, or visit our home page to learn more about our services.