September 20, 2018

What to say – and not to say – to immigration officers

The state of immigration law and policy in the United States is in a continued state of flux, causing worries and fears for many non-citizens. For those living in Michigan, a prominent concern is that one interaction with immigration law enforcement officers can change your life forever.

When it comes to interacting with Immigration and Customs Enforcement or other law enforcement officers, it is important to know what to expect. A confrontation or detainment does not have to mean the end of your time living in the country by any means. Consider some of the important talking points, and ones to avoid, when interacting with law enforcement regarding your immigration status.

Where is the warrant?

In case an officer attempts to enter your home or place you under arrest, first ask to see the warrant. Even non-citizens have the constitutional protection of the fourth amendment against unlawful searches and seizures which includes entering your home and conducting an arrest.

Ask to see the warrant and check for a judge’s signature verifying its enforceability. This is a fair and legal request which the officer needs to follow. It is important to remain cooperative during an interaction, so avoid the temptation to come off as combative. This interaction can remain civil, but that depends on all parties.

I can show you my visa, green card, etc.

Thousands of immigrants live and work in Michigan at this time. For each and every one it is important to maintain any relevant paperwork relating to your status in the country. Keep any visa, permanent resident or other immigration paperwork with you whenever possible. You can present this documentation to officers as a method to help resolve questions about your immigration status.

Officers can’t force you to answer questions about where you were born or your legal status, but presenting paperwork can alleviate this element of the interaction with immigration officers. Do not, under any circumstances, present fake or fraudulent paperwork at any time. Not only will this not be an effective strategy, it will also most likely make matters worse.

I am calling my lawyer.

The best decision you can make when interacting with immigration law enforcement officers is to involve a lawyer as soon as possible. Even if you have never met with or contacted an attorney, consider keeping the phone number of a Michigan-based immigration attorney in your phone or on your person at all times.

Interacting with law enforcement does not have to mean the end of your time in the U.S. Consider the important talking points and topics to avoid if an interaction occurs. Prioritize your safety and wellbeing by preparing for these interactions before they happen.