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Your Rights When Asked for Your Immigration Status

Gurian Group, P.A. Jan. 24, 2023

Shadows of people walking in street painted with USA flagFlorida is home to 2.7 million foreign-born residents, about 16.7 percent of the total population. In Miami-Dade, the percentage reaches 51 percent foreign born. Regardless of where a person is born, once they arrive in the United States, they are protected by rights granted under the U.S. Constitution, and specifically its Fourth and Fifth Amendments. 

The Fifth Amendment grants everyone the right to remain silent when questioned by authorities. The Fourth Amendment protects residents, whether citizens or not, against illegal searches and seizures. These rights are important if you are ever confronted by police or another official about your immigration status. 

However, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires foreign nationals to register with “the appropriate government agency” after entering the U.S., and after that – if age 18 or older – to carry with them “any certificate of alien registration or alien registration receipt card,” which means a Green Card if you have attained Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status. Therefore, if you are questioned by a law enforcement or immigration officer about your immigration status, you have the right to remain silent under the Fifth Amendment, but under the INA, you should carry any immigration document you have with you at all times. Even if you show the officer your documentation, you do not have to answer further questions, and you can request to speak to your attorney before proceeding in the dialogue. 

If you have had any questionable encounters with law enforcement, or you are currently being questioned about your status in or around Miami, Florida, contact me immediately at Gurian Group, P.A. I have more than 15 years’ experience in helping foreign nationals deal with immigration issues so they can establish their lives in the United States. I proudly serve clients not only in the Miami area but the surrounding communities. 

Your Rights Once in the United States 

Once you arrive in the U.S., you enjoy the same rights as citizens do under the U.S. Constitution and its amendments. The Bill of Rights is specifically applicable, especially the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. The Fourth Amendment applies if an officer wants to search you or your premises. Unless they have a search warrant or probable case – meaning they have some suspicion that you’ve committed a crime – they cannot conduct a search. 

The Fifth Amendment provides against self-incrimination, which means you do not have to answer questions from law enforcement or immigration officials. You have a right to remain silent. However, as the famous Miranda Warning that police must issue before questioning someone under arrest states: “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” 

Do’s and Don’ts 

If you are stopped or approached by officials, stay calm. Exercise your right to remain silent, and whatever you do, don’t lie or try to deceive the officer. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you’re a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. Do not sign anything either. If you have papers or a Green Card, it’s best to show them, but you can refuse under the Fifth Amendment.  

Never, ever run away or try to hide. You can also ask the officer, “Am I free to leave?” If things get sticky, you can also request to call an attorney before they question you further. 

Some immigrant rights organizations issue cards that you can carry with you as a foreign national, which set forth your rights and your exercise of them. You can hand the card to the officer. This may be especially useful if your English is not sufficient.  

One such card states, in effect: “I do not wish to speak with you, answer your questions, or sign or hand you any documents based on my Fifth Amendment rights.” And: “I do not give you permission to search any of my belongings based on my Fourth Amendment rights.”  

Remember, however, that these rights apply once you’re inside the U.S. At the border and inside airports, you may have to answer questions about your immigration status. 

How an Immigration Attorney Can Help 

If matters escalate and authorities are pressing you on your status or making requests that you feel are unreasonable, the guidance and counsel of an experienced immigration attorney can make all the difference in the world. An attorney can work with the authorities to resolve the situation, so that you can go about your life as normal, while your attorney helps you navigate the immigration system to achieve the result you need. 

Skilled & Compassionate Legal Counsel 

For all your immigration questions, concerns, and needs in and around Miami, Florida, contact me immediately at Gurian Group, P.A. Your first consultation is free, and I will help you overcome any roadblocks on the path to permanent residency and/or citizenship. I have helped thousands of others just like you, and I will defend your rights every step of the way.