One of the most frightening experiences that can be faced by an undocumented immigrant in the United States comes the moment when a law enforcement officer knocks on the door. Many law enforcement agencies do not have jurisdiction over immigration matters, and the authority of immigration officers is strictly limited. Anyone who is living an uncertain life as an undocumented immigrant should follow the cautionary guidelines published by civil rights and immigrant protective organizations.
Before anyone knocks
Store all important documents in a safe, secure place. Provide copies of these documents to close friends or family members who do not live where you do. Seek the advice of an experienced immigration lawyer to assess your circumstances. Have plans at your workplace and at home to protect yourself and your family. Such plans should include an alternate residence and a means of transportation.
If the knock comes at home
Never open the door without asking the person seeking entrance for identification. Immigration officers are allowed to enter private dwellings. Police officers must obtain a search warrant from a court having jurisdiction. If somehow the person (or persons) at the door gain entry, write down their names and badge numbers. State plainly that you are not giving consent to any search. Most importantly, do not run; you may be shot if you do.
If the knock comes at work
Do not run. It is not safe. To enter the workplace, a law enforcement officer must have a warrant or the supervisor’s permission.
Officers must have an enforceable order or a warrant to stop and search a person in a public place. The officer must also possess a reasonable suspicion that the subject of the search is not in this country legally.
After an immigration raid
Obtain the name and badge number of the person who made the arrest. Do not sign any documents that you do not fully understand – and don’t assume that you know the meaning of the document if you understand only a few words. Contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney as soon as possible. Contact the consulate of your native country, and make an application to be released after posting bail.
What rights does a person possess after being arrested?
A person who has been detained by law enforcement or immigration officers cannot be forced to sign any documents or to offer information about their immigration status. An arrestee has the right to contact his or her native consulate. An arrestee also has the right to make a telephone call. Be sure to ask for an interpreter if you are not fluent in English. Finally, be sure to ask for release from custody conditioned upon posting a reasonable bond.