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Are Immigrants Allowed to Participate in Protests?

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One of the premiere tenets of the United States is freedom of speech and freedom to protest. Every person who lives in this country has a right to free speech and a right to protest, no matter their citizenship status or immigration status. Unfortunately, immigrants who want to participate in protests can be placed in a precarious position. Even though the history and traditions of the United States were created on the backs of immigrants and the immigration process, immigrants still have to know their rights before participating in a protest to stay safe.

What Risks do Immigrants Face When They Protest?

When immigrants engage in protests, they can face many risks, some that every protester may face, and some that are specific to their immigration status. There is always a risk to one’s health if the protest becomes violent. Immigrants who are publicly protesting can be injured by other protesters, counter-protesters, or even law enforcement. Police and security personnel can use things such as tear gas, rubber bullets, or simply clubs and shields to crackdown on protesters. But these dangers can affect everyone at the protest, not just immigrants. There are, however, specific risks that immigrants face while engaging in legal protests:

  • Police interaction leading to arrest and conviction
  • Police interaction leading to deportation, even if there was no arrest or conviction
  • Difficulty in being granted permanent citizenship from having an arrest record
  • Losing a work visa status because of being arrested and convicted
  • Being an undocumented immigrant, running the risk of being immediately deported
  • Being held in prison for a much longer time than normal

What are Immigrants’ Rights When Protesting?

Immigrants, either documented or even undocumented, have not given up the rights afforded to them under the United States Constitution. There are rights that everyone in this country has, no matter where they were born, no matter their citizenry status, or how and why they are in the United States. However, immigrants planning on engaging in a public protest or rally need to know their rights.

Right to free speech. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution gives everyone the right to free speech by preventing the government from doing anything that unreasonably restricts anyone’s speech. This means that everyone has the right to engage in protests, marches, demonstrations, and rallies. The right to free speech and to protest applies to everyone within the United States, regardless of their immigration status, even an undocumented immigrant. However, engaging in protests, especially for an undocumented immigrant, will have certain risks discussed above, and the person should plan accordingly if they are going to march or be at a rally where there is a risk of detention or arrest.

Freedom from retaliation. The government does not have the right to retaliate against an individual in some manner for engaging in their freedom of speech rights. The government is not supposed to arrest someone or do anything that would affect them negatively merely for participating in a protest or political rally, for instance. However, in the past, immigration protest leaders have been harassed, arrested, and detained merely for espousing political views about United States immigration policy. Therefore, before engaging in protests and rallies, one should make sure that a safety plan is in place. If there is concern about a person’s immigration status and engaging in political rallies, they should speak to an experienced immigration lawyer to discuss their rights and protections and develop a plan of action if they are detained or arrested.

Right to remain silent. Everyone, regardless of their immigration status, has a right to remain silent when questioned by law enforcement, and this includes being questioned by an immigration official. If an immigrant has been arrested or detained at a political protest, that person does not have to answer any questions, especially any questions about their immigration status. This right, contained in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution, applies to anyone, regardless of their citizenship status.

Right against unreasonable searches and seizures. The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives everyone, again regardless of their immigration or citizenship status, the right against unreasonable searches and seizures. This means that no one has to give law enforcement, including immigration officials, consent to a search of themselves, belongings, home, or vehicle. There are many variations of this rule that have been created and nuanced by the Supreme Court. For example, law enforcement is allowed to perform a pat-down search of a detained individual to make sure the person is not concealing any weapons that might harm the officers. However, if the person gives consent to a search of their person or vehicle, for instance, the police can and will search everything. Everyone has the right to refuse, though. The refusal of a search requires the police to obtain a legal warrant for the search from a judge.

Right to speak to a lawyer. If someone is detained or arrested, they have the right to speak to a lawyer. If the person is an immigrant and planning on engaging in a protest or rally, they should already have engaged an immigration lawyer and have the lawyer’s contact information memorized. This should be part of a safety plan just in case they are arrested. An immigrant immediately engaging a lawyer to protect their rights is the first smart move. Having a lawyer on a person’s side makes sure that the police are following the rules and that they are not violating the immigrant’s rights. Having an experienced lawyer will also help in getting the person out of jail as quickly as possible and to help them through the arrest and arraignment process. Also, if the immigrant does not already have a lawyer and cannot afford to hire one, the state is responsible for providing them with legal representation free of charge.

How to Interact with Law Enforcement at a Protest

Here are some basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement at a protest or political rally. Obviously, every scenario is different, but following these rules will help in most situations.

  • If someone is stopped, the officer may not tell them they are being detained or arrested. The immigrant should ask if they are free to leave; if the officer says yes, the immigrant should politely walk away. It is important to be firm but respectful. The immigrant should not give the officer any reason to formally arrest them.
  • It is important not to answer any questions. The immigrant should just ask if they are free to leave. The person should not provide any false information about themselves. In some states and jurisdictions, the only thing a person may have to provide to a law enforcement officer is identification. The person should attempt to determine if this is necessary in the state or jurisdiction where the protest will take place.
  • The immigrant should not consent to any searches of their person or property such as bags, vehicles, or clothing.
  • The person should not sign any type of document even if it is something simple.
  • The immigrant should not resist arrest and try to use force against the police officer. If possible, the person should follow the officer’s exact instructions. The person must not give officers any excuse to use force because they will use force and it could end up with the person being injured or even killed by police.
  • Once they are in front of a judge, the immigrant should not plead to a charge unless their lawyer is standing right next to them and the lawyer has explained everything to them.

Philadelphia immigration lawyer at the MC Law Group, LLC Help Immigrants Who have Arrested at Protests

The Philadelphia immigration lawyer and staff at the MC Law Group, LLC support the rights of immigrants to protest policies or actions for which they disagree. Everyone should take advantage of our Constitutional rights no matter what their immigration status. However, we are here to help if something goes wrong at a protest and you are detained or arrested. Also, we are here to help develop a plan so that you are safe during a protest or rally. For a free consultation, call us at 215-496-0690 or complete our online form. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.

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