What To Do if the Police Officer Ask About Your Immigration Status

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What Do You Do if a Police Officer Asks About Your Immigration Status?

Immigration law in the U.S. is regulated by federal agencies such as the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection. State police officers generally do not have the power to enforce or aid the enforcement of immigration laws since that is outside the scope of their authority.

However, in a few states, law enforcement officers are permitted to question people about their immigration status and work with the immigration officers to enforce immigration laws. Texas became one of those states in 2017 when a law known as Senate Bill 4 (SB4) was passed. The law specifically allows law enforcement officers, including campus police, to ask about the immigration status of people they arrest or detain, even at traffic stops.

Even though civil rights groups and other stakeholders have criticized the law for encouraging discrimination and racial profiling, the law still stands. If you’re an immigrant in Houston or anywhere else in Texas, especially if you are a person of color or belong to an ethnic minority, there’s a good chance that you could be stopped by the police at any time and grilled about your immigration status.

How you respond in such situations is important because, depending on your immigration status, the outcome of such encounters could lead to grave consequences for you. So, you must stay calm and think carefully about your situation before responding.

If you’re unsure how to act or what to do in such circumstances, the ideas we’ve provided below can help.

Be Polite 

When the police approach you or ask you to pull over when you’re driving, do not try to argue or speak to them rudely. 

Do not try to escape, make sudden movements, or reach for an item without first informing the officer of your intentions. Such acts could be construed as aggressive behavior and may lead to criminal charges.

Be Observant 

Sometimes, police officers may act outside the scope of the law by arresting/ detaining you without cause. If you are stopped or detained in such circumstances, you need to be proactive and take note of the officers’ names and badge numbers in case you need to file a complaint against them. 

Try to commit everything that happens to memory and take pictures/make videos or voice recordings if possible so you’ll have evidence to support your case if necessary.

Show Your Documentation

Generally, when the police pull you over, they will ask you to show certain documentation.

If you are an immigrant with legal status who is eighteen or older, it is important to carry your immigration papers with you at all times. This could be your passport, green card, Adjustment of Status documents, or anything else with your Alien Registration Number.  You can show the document to the police when they ask.

If you have already attained U.S. citizenship, you do not need to carry any immigration documents. You may show your driver’s license to prove that you lawfully reside in the U.S.

Avoid Lying About Your Immigration Status

If you’re an undocumented immigrant, you may be tempted to lie about your immigration status or present false documents when asked. But that could get you into trouble.

You could be charged with a criminal offense for providing false information to the police, forgery, or both. If convicted, you could be deported.

At this point, you might be wondering how to navigate the police interrogation without implicating yourself. The steps in the following sections can help.

Exercise Your Rights

Every individual resident in the U.S. has certain rights regardless of their immigration status. The U.S. Constitution guarantees these rights and can help protect you from unreasonable arrest and detention, even if you are undocumented. They include the following:

The Right to Remain Silent

Your right to remain silent is protected by the Fifth Amendment under the U.S. Constitution. You can politely refuse to answer questions about your birthplace, citizenship status, place of residence, or anything else that could be used to implicate you.

If your immigration documents are in order, you may not need to exercise this right. But if you’re undocumented, telling the police about your status is not a great idea. They may contact immigration agents and inform them about your situation.

The Right to Refuse Consent to a Search

If the police show up at your house or property, you do not have to let them in unless they have a search warrant signed by a judge.

You can ask to see the warrant through the peephole or window. If there is none, politely ask the officers to leave. 

There are a few instances where a police officer may legally search your home, car, or property without a search warrant. If you have such concerns, you can ask an attorney to explain those instances and guide you on the next steps if you ever encounter them.

The Right to Legal Representation 

You have the right to be represented by an attorney if you have any issues with law enforcement officers as an (undocumented) immigrant.

There are different kinds of attorneys. But because of your unique situation, you’ll benefit more from an immigration attorney who understands how a run-in with the police could affect your immigration status.

An immigration lawyer can represent and speak for you when you have dealings with the police or immigration authorities, including if;

  • You’ve elected to remain silent when asked questions about your immigration status

  • You get arrested as an immigrant (if the arrest would affect your stay in the U.S.)

  • Your rights were violated by the police when they asked about your immigration status

  • You’re facing imminent removal (deportation) from the U.S., and your case has been referred to an immigration judge.

In all these instances, an immigration attorney can advocate for you before the necessary authorities, fight to safeguard your rights, and work to ensure your stay in the U.S.

Contact the Skilled Immigration Lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law for Help

It is not easy dealing with questions from the police about your immigration status, especially if you’re undocumented. Whatever you say can and will be used against you. That’s why it is important to seek help from competent immigration lawyers who can speak for you and keep you from making costly mistakes that could lead to deportation.

Our experienced immigration lawyers at Andrew T. Thomas, Attorneys at Law, fully understand the consequences for an immigrant if the police questioning goes wrong. If you’re in such a situation, please get in touch with us immediately. We can represent you and guide you toward a positive outcome.

Even if you feel you’ve already made mistakes in your answers to the police or are facing removal proceedings due to your responses. All hope is not lost. We can argue your case in immigration court and fight to prevent your deportation.

Reach out to us immediately and share your concerns. Let us assess your case and determine the next steps.