How to Respect Law Enforcement While Also Protecting Yourself

The experience of being an immigrant in the U.S. is long, emotional, and stressful. While you are in the process of or working towards, becoming a legal permanent resident or a citizen of the United States, you don’t want to do anything to jeopardize it.

Being questioned by the police is unnerving for anyone—and it is significantly more worrisome when you are in the middle of the immigration process. You not only have to think about the answer, but you have to know how your response could impact your future. And there is the issue of whether you should answer the question. Are you giving up your rights by talking? Is refusing to speak going to get you in further trouble?

Don’t Make The Situation Worse

If you are approached or questioned by the police, try and remain calm. One of the quickest ways to get your heart to lower is to control your breathing. Though it sounds easy, it may not be. Focus on your breath. Exhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4, inhale for 4, hold for 4. Repeat. That is a method called box breathing.

Another way you can remain calm is by having a plan beforehand. You may be doing it right now by reading this.

Resist the urge to run, get angry—and never assault anyone. Lying about anything will likely only make a bad situation worse.

What Rights Do Immigrants Have?

All people within the interior of the U.S., regardless of immigration status, have the full rights and protections of the U.S. Constitution. Did you know that? However, the impact of what you say or do is going to be dependent on your immigration status. There are firm guidelines that will apply to you, regardless.

Remain silent. Express your desire to remain silent. And say that you want to speak to your attorney before answering anyone’s questions—even ones that seem simple. A police officer or an immigration agent might search you or your property with probable cause, but to preserve your rights it is best to not consent to a search.

Whatever your immigration status is, carry valid documents on you to prove it. The only time you should show these to anyone is if they are an immigration agent requesting to see them.

Loaded Questions

In addition to remaining silent, not consenting to a search (by police or immigration), and expressing your intent to speak to an attorney, there is another firm guideline: do not discuss your immigration status. Present your documentation to immigration agents when they request them, but don’t feel compelled to supply this information to the police or law enforcement officials at the jail.

The questions you may be asked may not be directly related to your status. But they may be trying to get you to talk about it. Here are examples of those questions:

  • “Where are you from originally?”
  • “How long have you been living in this country?”
  • “How has the immigration process been going for you?”

Because you don’t know the true intention of the question, it is best to stay silent. The only person who you know has your interests in mind and at heart is your attorney.


STERN Law, LLC is proud to be the first dedicated Crimmigration law firm in the country. We focus on criminal defense for non-US citizens. This extends to post-conviction appeals and deportation defense as well. If you are in the immigration process and face or deal with criminal charges, contact the STERN Law for a consultation. We offer complimentary consultations for criminal cases.

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