Many immigrants worry about what will happen to them and their families if they end up in trouble with law enforcement. This is an understandable concern as criminal charges or similar issues could affect your immigration status or put you in line for deportation, depending on the circumstances. You certainly do not want to put yourself or your family in this type of jeopardy, but it is easy to panic went interacting with law enforcement.

In efforts to keep yourself calm should this event ever arise, it is important to prepare for such an event. You have rights, and you can enforce those rights even if your immigration status is in question.

What are your rights?

As a person living in the United States, you have the right to remain silent. Even if the officer asks about your immigration status, you can politely refuse to answer the question and inform the officer that you wish to remain silent. If you do answer the officer’s question, do not lie or provide false information as he or she could use that information against you later.

You do not have to allow an officer to search your person or your belongings either. If an officer has a warrant or probable cause to conduct a search, he or she may do so. However, if the officer asks for your consent and has no other reason to conduct a search, you may refuse. It may seem intimidating to refuse an officer’s request, but you have the right to do so.

How can you protect yourself?

Because interacting with law enforcement can cause anxiety, especially for immigrants concerned about their legal status, a fight or flight instinct may kick in. Though you may instinctually feel the need to run, do not do so. Running, resisting, obstructing or arguing could all work against you in this type of situation. Instead, you may want to remain as calm as possible, tell the truth or, better, remain silent, and do not make any unexpected movements.

You can also protect yourself by invoking your right to an attorney. Even if the questions the officer asks you seem innocent, you can refuse to answer and request an attorney before providing any information beyond the strict requirement under Michigan law. If you find yourself in this type of predicament, you may want to contact an immigration law attorney experienced in criminal cases, who could help protect your best interests should officers charge you with a crime.