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Know Your Rights!

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Know Your Rights!

Immigration Equality has heard from many of you who are feeling anxious about how the U.S. government has been targeting immigrants. We know that some of you feel unsafe going to work, taking your children to school, or even just being outside of your homes. At the same time, many of you have also shared with us that you are proud to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ), or HIV-positive immigrant in America. You should be proud! Immigrants have long made America diverse, inclusive, and successful. At Immigration Equality, we know that these are rough times for many minorities, and especially for our community. We stand with you! We celebrate you! And we will do everything in our power to protect you and your families.

Below, we answer some of the most common questions we have heard from you about what your rights are, and how to stay safe. If you have never had a consultation with a legal representative, you should schedule one now. Without a legal screening, you may not know whether you are eligible for permanent immigration status in the United States. While not everyone has the ability to secure legal status, many do.

What do I do if immigration agents come to my home?

If Immigration agents come to your home and ask you if they can enter it, tell them “no.” Make sure your family, friends, loved ones, and anyone else living with you or visiting you also know not to open the door for ICE.

No one can enter your home without permission unless they have a search warrant or an arrest warrant signed by a judge.

If an officer informs you that they have a warrant, ask them to slip it under your door.  Read it carefully. Immigration officers often have papers that look very official but are not judicial warrants. Please also note that immigration agents frequently come to a person’s home very early in the morning and claim to be the police. If someone says that they are a police officer, ask to see their badge. Look closely at the badge for the word “police,” as many immigration officers also have badges. If the officers cannot show you a police badge, they may be immigration officers. Even if they are the police, no one can enter your home without permission unless they have a search warrant or an arrest warrant signed by a judge. Look for a judge’s signature and title. If a judge has not signed the form, it is not a warrant even if it ahs the word “warrant” on it.

How do I stay safe in public?

If you have proof of valid immigration status, such as a green card or a work authorization document, carry it with you at all times. If you have overstayed your visa or if you came to the U.S. without permission, you should not carry your passport or other papers that may indicate that you are not in valid immigration status. Instead, look to see if a state or city ID is an option for you. Only carry one if it omits a reference to immigration status.

If someone approaches you claiming to be an immigration agent, respectfully ask to see their badge. Read it carefully. If they are an ICE agent and you have legal status in the U.S., you should show ICE your documents. If they are an ICE agent and you do not have permission to be in the U.S., you always have the right to remain silent. You can also ask to speak to a lawyer before answering any questions.

You always have the right to remain silent. It is better to remain silent than to be dishonest with immigration agents.

If you are searched by immigration agents, note that they are generally not allowed to look in your wallet or to read your papers. A search of a person is generally restricted to looking for weapons or of possession of something illegal. You do not have to consent to any other kind of search.

What do I do if immigration agents stop me in my car?

If you have a valid driver’s license, you may show that to an immigration officer. If you do not, you should ask if you are under arrest. If you are not, ask if you are free to go. Remember, you can always remain silent. You can also ask to speak to an attorney before you answer any questions. If officers ask if they can search your car or look in your trunk, you have the right to say “no.” Note, however, that if the police have “probable cause” to believe that you are involved in criminal activity, they may search your car anyway. But they will not have probable cause simply because you told them that they could not search your car.

How do I know who I can trust?

Immigration Equality has heard several reports of people dressing up as ICE agents and asking for money. However, actual ICE agents will never ask you for money. If someone approaches you claiming to be an immigration agent or any member of law enforcement, respectfully ask to see their badge. If they do not have a badge or they ask you for money, they are most likely not really law enforcement agents.

Similarly, many people claiming to be “immigration experts” operate scams. They take money from immigrants, but do not provide any services. Sometimes, they file the wrong documents or inaccurate documents, which is even worse. Often, individuals operating a scam promise impossible results. Be wary of anyone who guarantees that they can help you. If you are looking for a reputable immigration attorney or BIA-accredited representative to advise you on your case, it may be wise to contact a local or national non-profit. Many non-profit organizations have referral lists for reliable legal counsel.

Is it safe for me to travel abroad?

Traveling internationally can be risky for many people. We recommend that you consult with a reputable immigration attorney before you travel, regardless of your immigration status. This is especially true if you have ever had any problems with the immigration system or if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.

Currently, individuals who are in valid visa status, who have green cards, or who use refugee travel documents [1] are not being restricted from traveling. 

If you are not in valid immigration status, or if you have a pending application for immigration status, you should not travel abroad. If you do, it is very likely that you will be prevented from re-entering the United States. It is also likely that any pending applications you have will be deemed by the U.S. government to be abandoned. Note that some individuals with pending applications may be eligible for advance parole, and they may travel. However, before you apply for or use advance parole, you should consult with a legal representative.

Is it safe for me to travel domestically?

Currently, individuals who are in valid visa status or who have green cards are not being restricted from traveling domestically, whether they are flying, taking a train or bus, or driving. However, for those who are not in valid status, or who have applications pending, even domestic travel is risky.

If you are undocumented, or if you are waiting on a pending immigration application, you should avoid domestic air, train, or bus travel.

Please note that almost all domestic airports are also international airports. Therefore, immigration agents are very likely to be present at almost every airport. Similarly, there are many roads and highways near the borders of the U.S. where immigration agents set up checkpoints. And, finally, certain train and bus lines are regularly boarded and searched by ICE agents. Long distance travel, or travel near the border, is strongly discouraged if you are undocumented.    

Are U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands considered domestic or international travel?

While all U.S. territories are indisputably part of the United States, ICE has begun to police them as though they were foreign jurisdictions. If you have a valid visa or a green card, you should not experience any problems traveling to a U.S. territory. However, if you are undocumented, avoid travel outside the contiguous 48 states.

Note that while many people may leave and reenter the U.S. on a refugee travel document, you should check with the country or countries you intend to visit before booking a trip. Some nations do not accept the refugee travel document. Others will require you to obtain a visa in the document before you can use it to enter their nations.

The information contained herein is for reference only and may not be up to date. It does not constitute legal advice. You should always consult an attorney regarding your matter.

This handbook is intended for use by pro bono attorneys and immigration attorneys working on LGBTQ/HIV asylum cases.