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Tips For Protecting Your Rights Regardless Of Immigration Status

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Not sure what to do if you're confronted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or Border Patrol? You're not alone.

Many people in America are living in fear. When the Trump administration announced deportation raids in major U.S. cities, some communities were thrown into a panic.

"People are afraid to go to work, afraid to go to school, afraid to report crimes they see in the street," says Emilio De Torre, director of community engagement at the ACLU of Wisconsin.

He has worked with people throughout the community who are unsure about their rights when confronted by law enforcement agencies, like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Border Patrol. While people are entitled to certain rights, De Torre cautions that it's not always easy to assert them. 

"Just because these are your rights [doesn't] mean [law enforcement] is just going to accept your answers," he explains. "They may be rude. They may be aggressive. They may be brusque. They may say cruel things."

But asserting your rights in a calm, collected manner can mean the difference between being detained and going home. 

"Just because these are your rights [doesn't] mean [law enforcement] is just going to accept your answers. They may be rude. They may be aggressive."

These are some of De Torre's tips for protecting your rights:

If you're stopped on the street:

  • You don't have to talk to law enforcement. "If it's an ICE agent or a police agent, you don't have to speak to them ... You don't have to present your driver's license," he says.
  • Never present false documents. 
  • You may feel the need to protest your innocence, but De Torre says that could still get you into trouble. "Know that you will be held accountable for anything you say," he explains. 
  • Do not allow them to search you without a warrant. There are many cases of officers planting drugs and weapons on people. "They already think you look guilty, that's why they stopped you out of the thousands of other people. So, using that as a presupposition, you want to get home safe and healthy, to be with your family," De Torre says. 

If law enforcement comes to your home:

  • Do not open the door or let them in. Talk to them through the door instead.
  • Ask that any documents are slid beneath the door or hold them up to the keyhole.
  • If you are facing deportation, law enforcement may give you an administrative warrant for your arrest, but that isn't a legally binding document. "Demand to see a warrant that's signed by a judge ... it should say 'Honorable Judge' so-and-so, and look for that," says De Torre.  

If you're stopped in a car:

  • You are required to engage with law enforcement in a limited way. 
  • Turn off the radio, put your hands at 10-and-2 on the steering wheel, and wait for the officer to engage you. 
  • You are required to have a driver's license and proof of registration. De Torre shares, "If the officer asks for these things, I like to say, 'Officer, I keep my registration in the glove compartment. I'm going to reach over there and grab my registration. Is that OK?' " 
  • Let them know if there are any weapons in the car. 
  • "Just answer their questions and [don't] volunteer anymore," he says. "So, if an officer, for example, says, 'Do you know why I pulled you over?' Politely say, 'Officer, maybe you should tell me why you pulled me over,' " instead of providing reasons you may have been pulled over. 
  • Do not allow them to search your car without a warrant. 
  • Law enforcement can order passengers to leave the car, but passengers aren't required to identify themselves — and De Torre says they shouldn't. 

If law enforcement comes to your work: 

  • "[ICE] may try to trick you ... [they might] say, 'OK, we just have some routine questioning. Everybody who's a citizen stand to the left, everybody who's an immigrant stand to the right. You don't have to comply," he explains. 
  • Employers may be asked to provide I-9 documents for employees, but employers do not have to hand them over immediately. ICE inspectors must provide a Notice of Inspection before they conduct an audit. Employers have three business days to comply.

Other resources:

Joy is a WUWM host and producer for Lake Effect.