It’s an unsettling time to be an immigrant in the U.S., whether you are out of status, visiting or working on a current visa, or a lawful permanent resident. When the news is filled with stories such as the widely-reported 12-state raid last year and the deportation of Youngstown businessman Amer “Al Adi” Othman earlier this year, a bit of unease makes sense. However, the best response to that reasonable anxiety is preparation. Educating yourself about your rights in advance can help you avoid serious mistakes in a tense situation.
Know Your Rights if You are Approached by ICE
People approached by ICE, like people approached by other law enforcement officers, are often nervous and unsure of their rights. Unfortunately, that unease can lead to harmful responses, ranging from saying too much to becoming agitated and giving agents a reason to detain you.
The first thing to remember if you are approached by an agent, or even detained by ICE, is to remain as calm and polite as possible. Escalating tensions can only make a bad situation worse.
<h3>You May be Free to Leave without Answering any Questions</h3>
Don’t assume that just because an officer has approached you, you can or will be detained by ICE. It is generally best to begin the conversation by politely asking whether you are free to leave. Many people who try to be cooperative and accommodating find themselves quickly taken into custody.
Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
Remember that you have a right to remain silent. If you are detained by ICE, or immigration and customs officers who have approached you on the street persist in questioning you, you may feel that you’re in a bind.
You may feel that you have to respond. But, sometimes, answering a question honestly can hurt you—even if you have done nothing wrong. And, lying to law enforcement is virtually always a serious mistake. It may take a bit of courage and resolve to remain silent, but it can also be your best protection.
Ask for an Attorney
If you’ve been detained by ICE and are facing deportation, you have the right to an attorney. However, unlike a criminal defendant, you are not entitled to have an attorney appointed for you. Therefore, if you are in a vulnerable position and concerned about the possibility of being detained by ICE, it is a good idea to identify a local immigration attorney in advance and keep the law firm’s contact information with you.
Do Not Agree to or Sign Anything
Immigration officers may offer a “deal” that they tell you will make things easier for you. This may involve a waiver of a hearing or an agreement to “voluntary” deportation. Too often, people who have been detained by ICE do not fully understand what they are signing or are not aware of the rights they are giving up by signing a waiver or other agreement. Always talk to an immigration attorney before agreeing to anything.
Helping a Friend or Family Member Who Has Been Detained by ICE
If a family member has been detained by ICE, contact his or her immigration lawyer immediately. If he or she does not have an immigration lawyer, act quickly to secure representation before your loved one makes a mistake that can’t be corrected. You can schedule a consultation with one of our experienced immigration attorneys by calling 440-946-7656 in Lake County or 216-861-4211 in Cuyahoga County.