What would you do if you and your family were strolling through a public festival, enjoying some free time together, when suddenly, you hear someone shouting your name in a crowd? You turn in the direction of the voice and immediately see several Immigration and Customer Enforcement officers making their way toward you. Should you answer them? Should you turn around and walk away?
Knowing that your legal status may be compromised would likely make you quite nervous in such a situation. However, it's critical that you understand your rights and know how to protect them because everything you do or say from that moment on may affect the rest of your life. If an ICE agent approaches you in public, there are several things you should and should not do.
Things you can do
The following list includes practical tips that may help you protect yourself if an immigration officer approaches you and starts asking questions that make you nervous:
- Even if an ICE official has addressed you by name, you do not need to react in any way that confirms your identity.
- If the officer starts asking you questions, such as where you were born or whether the name he or she used to address you is, in fact, your real name, you may simply respond by asking if you are free to leave.
- If the officer in question says that you may go, you can then explain that you do not wish to further the conversation. You may then walk away.
- If the officer tells you that he or she is detaining you, you still do not have to answer any questions until you have the opportunity to secure legal representation.
You may tell the officer that you know you have a right to stay silent and that you are invoking that right.
Things you don't want to do
Just as there are helpful ideas you can implement to avoid trouble when talking to an ICE official, there are also many things you want to avoid if your goal is to get through the situation with as few complications as possible:
- It's never a good idea to try to run away from ICE officials.
- You will likely compound your problems if you shout out or act aggressively in any way toward an ICE official.
- Even if someone tries to convince you it's a good idea, you should never hand an ICE officer falsified documents.
- Do not lie.
- It's also a bad idea to try to bribe a U.S. government official.
If you wind up having to go to a detainment center and are separated from your family, you may feel afraid, anxious and helpless. However, you are definitely not helpless because there are strong support networks in place to assist immigrants facing legal status or possible deportation problems.