One of the most important things you should learn in the United States are your rights. This is especially true if you are an immigrant, and it’s crucial if you are an undocumented immigrant. There are a lot of people who are banking on and benefiting from you not knowing your rights. This is how injustice goes unchecked, and how so many undocumented immigrants are stopped, detained, and deported illegally and unjustly. And in the process, these immigrants are missing out on rights and benefits that were always owed to them.
The antidote to this un-American social poison is educating ourselves about what our rights are, and sharing this information so that others know their rights as well. These points should have a spotlight shined on them so that no one can ever get away with targeting and taking advantage of undocumented immigrants and their fear ever again. Knowledge is power, so let’s get stronger as a people by learning about these 28 rights undocumented immigrants have in the United States.
You Have the Right to Not Answer Questions About Your Immigrant Status
The first right we will be focusing on is the right to not disclose your immigration status, to either police or ICE. You also don’t have to answer questions about how you entered the country, where you were born, or whether you are a U.S. citizen or not. There are separate rules when it comes to the airport, international borders, and when dealing with certain visas. If an immigration officer asks for your papers, you have to show them (make sure to always have these on hand), but if you don’t have them, you can choose to remain silent.
You Don’t Have to Open the Door for ICE
Another right you have as an undocumented immigrant is to refuse to open the door if ICE comes knocking. No matter what they say, you don’t have to open the door, unless they have a warrant. Even then, you can ask them to slide the paper under the door or hold it up to a window so you can review it first.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent if Detained by ICE
Even if there is a warrant, you can still remain silent if you have chosen to open the door to police or ICE. You can also advise others in the house to also not speak. You can let the officers know that you have chosen to invoke your 5th amendment rights. In some states, you are required to state your name to officers in order to identify yourself.
You Can Ask for a Judge/Court-Issued Warrant
It’s important to know that you have the right to ask for a warrant, issued by a judge, in a court of law. Make sure the warrant states your name and/or address on them. According to the ACLU of Arizona, an arrest warrant will allow officers into your home if the person listed on it is believed to be inside. A search warrant allows officers to only enter the address on the form, and they can also search the areas and for the items listed. Finally, a deportation warrant doesn’t allow ICE to enter your home without your consent.
You Don’t Have to Sign Anything
Police and ICE officers will assume we don’t know our rights and will pressure us to sign documents that we don’t have to. You have the right to refuse to sign anything, even if you are detained. You have the right to a lawyer and shouldn’t sign anything unless you have one present that can explain everything in the form(s) to you. This is especially important if the undocumented immigrant doesn’t speak and read in English. ICE may be trying to trick this person to sign away their rights to a lawyer and/or to go before a judge.
You Have the Right to Refuse to Be Searched
We are taught to not question authority or to stand up to authority. While you should always remain calm, never run away from officers, and not yell at them which can further escalate the situation, you can state that you know your rights and are exercising them. One right you do have, even if you are an undocumented immigrant, is that you can refuse to let officers search your home, your car, or your person. In the words of Jay-Z, “and I know my rights, so you gon’ need a warrant for that.”
You Have the Right to Take Photos of/Record ICE and Police
If there is one good thing that has come from recent technology and our dependence on our phones, is that we always have a camera handy to capture what is happening. When photo and video cameras have been pointed at officers violating the law and a person’s rights, it has led to the truth coming out, and in some instances, justice. Know that you have the right to photograph and/or film officers to document what is happening. If you have any injuries, document those as well. Get as much info (badge numbers, witness info, etc.) to help build your case, and protect your rights.
You Have the Right to Have a Lawyer
The 6th amendment allows everyone in America the right to have a lawyer represent and defend them. Unfortunately for undocumented immigrants, this doesn’t include free, court-appointed counsel for immigration court, but they do have free counsel in criminal court, according to NOLO. Either way, you should know you can get a lawyer in these situations; make sure to check out organizations that may help with funding for representation should you need it.
You Have the Right to Due Process
Expanding on what we mentioned about the 6th amendment, undocumented immigrants also have a right to due process, to have a fair jury, a speedy trial, to know the charges and evidence against them, to be able to confront witness(es) in court and to know who their accusers are.
You Have the Right to Apply for Asylum
Many recent undocumented immigrants are escaping violence and poverty in Mexico and various Central America countries (which is a result of U.S. intervention in these nations, but that is another article to be written altogether). They have the right to apply for asylum in the United States. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “refugee status or asylum may be granted to people who have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion.”
You Have the Right to Ask to Leave Certain Situations
If you are stopped and have done nothing wrong, you have the right to ask officers if you can leave the situation. For example, if you are the passenger in a vehicle and you have nothing to do with what’s going on with the driver, you can ask if it’s ok for you to exit the vehicle and go on your way. Or, in basically any situation where you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave. For your safety, I would state out loud that this is a right, and that you are vacating the premises because you aren’t under arrest (instead of just exiting).
You Can’t Be Searched Without “Probable Cause”
There are many officers who use their power to control civilians and bend the rules to their advantage. It is imperative that you know that a policeman or woman cannot search you without “probable cause,” per the 4th amendment. Law.com defines probable cause as:
“sufficient reason based upon known facts to believe a crime has been committed or that certain property is connected with a crime. Probable cause must exist for a law enforcement officer to make an arrest without a warrant, search without a warrant, or seize property in the belief the items were evidence of a crime. While some cases are easy (pistols and illicit drugs in plain sight, gunshots, a suspect running from a liquor store with a clerk screaming “help”), actions “typical” of drug dealers, burglars, prostitutes, thieves, or people with guilt “written across their faces,” are more difficult to categorize. “Probable cause” is often subjective, but if the police officer’s belief or even hunch was correct, finding stolen goods, the hidden weapon or drugs may be claimed as self-fulfilling proof of probable cause. Technically, probable cause has to exist prior to arrest, search or seizure.”
Even if you were arrested, confessions were made, and evidence gathered, that can all be thrown out if the arrest itself was proven to be made without probable cause.
You Can’t Be Detained Without “Reasonable Suspicion”
You also can’t be detained without “reasonable suspicion.” It’s similar to probable cause but is different. The Law Dictionary explains the difference:
“Reasonable suspicion is a standard established by the Supreme Court in a 1968 case in which it ruled that police officers should be allowed to stop and briefly detain a person if based upon the officer’s training and experience there is reason to believe that the individual is engaging in criminal activity. The officer is given the opportunity to freeze the action by stepping in to investigate. Unlike probable cause that uses a reasonable person standard, reasonable suspicion is based upon the standard of a reasonable police officer.”
You Can Get a Driver’s License in 13 States, D.C., and Puerto Rico
Being undocumented can be scary and isolating. People live in fear of getting arrested and deported at any moment, even if they’ve been in the country for years — even decades. This fear can keep immigrants from learning and knowing their rights, and enjoying the benefits they have. One such benefit is being able to obtain a driver’s license in the following states, in addition to Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico:
– New Mexico
– New York
You Have the Right to An Education
Having an education can set you up for a happy and successful life. It prepares you and gives you the tools to go after your dreams and be who you want to be. It helps you pay bills, avoid debt, and build a future. It’s a fundamental right that everyone in the United States has. Even if you are undocumented, you are allowed to enroll in public school, from kindergarten through high school. Same goes for college unless you are in Alabama, Georgia, or South Carolina.
You Have the Same Wage and Hour Rights at Work as Everyone Else
Remember we just mentioned the constant fear that comes attached with being undocumented? This extends to all facets of life, but your work and/or career is probably the worst. Many don’t know their rights when it comes to employment, are afraid to ask, and can be threatened with dismissal and deportation if they seek to find out. Know that if you are undocumented, you are entitled to the same wage and hour rights as any other employee.
You Have the Right to Get Workers’ Compensation
Not being able to work is terrifying for anyone trying to support his or her family. Imagine injuring yourself on the job and being too scared to apply for workers’ compensation. Or even knowing you have the right to in several states. These include:
– North Carolina
You Have Work Safety Rights
These laws are to remind us something many have seemed to have forgotten — that we are all created equal and therefore should all have the same rights. It’s a no brainer that everyone should have a job where they are safe, even if they are in more hands-on careers like construction. You have the right to be supplied with the proper safety gear at all times.
You Can Get Financial Aid in Several States
Did you know that if you are an undocumented college student, that that doesn’t automatically exclude you from applying for and receiving financial aid? While you cannot receive federal student aid, there are numerous scholarships and grants you can apply for, and some are specifically for undocumented students (like UC Berkeley’s $1 million fund).
You Have the Right Not to Be Detained in “Sensitive Locations,” Like at School
ICE policy is to not detain undocumented immigrants in areas they deem as “sensitive locations.” These include schools, places of worship, protests and rallies, healthcare facilities, and religious or civil ceremonies. They claim that they will generally avoid these places, but also state the following:
“Enforcement actions may occur at sensitive locations in limited circumstances, but will generally be avoided. ICE officers and agents may conduct an enforcement action at a sensitive location if there are exigent circumstances if other law enforcement actions have led officers to a sensitive location, or with prior approval from an appropriate supervisory official.”
In at Least 18 States, You Can Pay In-State Tuition
When you go to college, the tuition for out of state students is way higher than those who are in-state. Many undocumented immigrants are forced to pay this more expensive rate, even if they have been living in their state since they were babies. Thankfully, the following states grant undocumented immigrants the ability to pay more affordable in-state tuition:
– New Mexico
– New Jersey
– New York
– Rhode Island
– As well as at the University of Hawaii and the University of Michigan
You Can Travel Within the U.S. (Including Flying)
Being an undocumented immigrant doesn’t have to mean staying at home all day, or only going to work/school, home and back again all the time. If you want to travel domestically, you can, but you have to be careful and prepared. According to Remezcla, you should check the travel laws of your home state, and not only carry your government-issued ID but also your passport from your home country, should you need it as extra identification (you should also avoid travel near immigration checkpoints and foreign layovers). These states, plus Washington D.C., according to the NCSL, will grant you a driver’s license that you can use for domestic travel, even if you are undocumented:
– New Mexico
You Can Get a Home Loan from Some Lenders
The American Dream is for everybody in America, or at least it should be. Part of this sueño is owning that dream home, where you can live and raise a family. While many lenders won’t give out home loans to undocumented immigrants, there are those who will. Instead of asking for your social security number, you would instead provide an individual tax identification number (ITIN) when applying.
You Can Get State Disability Insurance in California
Another legal right you should know if you are undocumented is that you may have the right to collect disability insurance (after all, it is money have you have paid from deductions from your earnings). Make it a point to look into what your state and federal rights are as an undocumented worker, either by researching online, or speaking with an expert you can trust. What you can’t apply for or get, however, is unemployment insurance, as it is not legal to be employed in the United States without the proper paperwork.
If You’re Detained, You Have the Right to Make a Phone Call
If you have watched a police drama (or several) in your life, you know that those who have been arrested often will ask for their one phone call. Well, the same goes in real life if you are undocumented and have been detained by ICE.
You Have the Right to Seek Help from the Police
No matter what your immigration status, you have the right to be protected from danger. If you need to call the police for protection, do it. Don’t let anyone intimidate you into keeping quiet because you can be deported. This is a threat that many abusers hang over their victims’ heads. Remember, you don’t have to disclose your status to officers, and if you do share your story of abuse, you may be able to stay in the U.S. legally under what is called a U visa.
Freedom of Expression and of Practicing Your Religion
The 1st Amendment is one of the things that makes America America. And you have the ability to enjoy the rights contained within this amendment, even if you are undocumented. This includes freedom to say what you want (unless it causes a “clear and present danger”), freedom to practice your faith, the right to assemble peacefully to protest and to petition your government to solve a problem (“redress of grievances”) without fear of retribution or punishment. The freedom of the press is also included in the First Amendment.
You Can File a Claim Against Your Employer
While you can be fired if your employer discovers you are undocumented, you also have rights. Anti-discrimination laws also benefit you, so if you were fired for another unlawful reason, and your employer used the fact that you are undocumented to let you go, that is illegal. If you weren’t paid the wages you were promised, that is illegal. If your boss was unfair and broke work laws, you can file a claim. But make sure you consult a lawyer, as your employer may want to retaliate by contacting ICE. FYI, you also have the right to be a part of a union.