Special to the Examiner

Due to the recent crackdown on illegal foreign nationals living and working in the United States, it is important for you, whether you are a citizen or non-citizen, to understand your rights when you are contacted by immigration agents or police officers. It is essential to know what agents and officers can and cannot do, and how best to act in encounters with them. This knowledge can reduce possible conflict and can protect your individual rights.

What are my rights on foot?
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), if you are contacted by immigration agents while you are on foot, always ask the agents if you are free to go. If they say yes, you have a right to remain silent and leave. You have the right not to answer any questions posed to you.

The ACLU advises that if the agents or police say that you are not free to go, you should give them your name. But, you still do not have to answer any other questions or give any other information, such as your address or immigration status.

What are my rights at home?
You do not have to open the door to any immigration agent or police officer unless they have a search warrant from a court.

According to the ACLU, if you do not want to let an agent or officer inside, do not open the door. Ask the agent or officer, through the door, if they have a search warrant from a court allowing them to search your home. You have the right to review the warrant if they have one.

If you live in someone else’s house, you still do not have to open the door unless the agents or police have a search warrant from a court.

What are my rights in my car?
If immigration agents or police signal you to stop your car, you must pull over. According to the ACLU, immigration agents may ask brief questions about your name, immigration status, nationality and travel plans. However, you do not have to answer any questions other than giving your name.

Police officers may ask for your name, driver’s license and vehicle registration. You should show these documents if you have them. You do not have to answer any other questions.

If an agent or officer asks to search your car, you may refuse to give him permission.

If an agent or officer questions a passenger, that person should ask if he or she has to answer. If the agent or officer says “yes,” the passenger has to give his or her name, but does not have to give any other information. The agent may ask you and your passenger to exit the car.

What if I am arrested?
The ACLU advises that you give the name or card of your attorney to the agents, and ask to speak to your attorney. If you do not have an attorney, ask for the list of free legal services for your area. Do not sign anything without talking to an attorney. Do not sign anything in a language you do not read.

Remember, in any situation, the safest things to say are “I am going to remain silent,” “I want to speak to my lawyer,” and “I do not consent to a search.”

What are my responsibilities?
When you are contacted by immigration agents, you have rights, but you also have responsibilities. The ACLU advises that you always remain polite and calm if contacted by immigration agents. Never lie or give false information to an immigration agent or police. Do not carry false ID. Also, carry the name of an immigration attorney who will take your calls.

It is also illegal for agents or police to pick someone out for questioning because of his or her ethnicity or race. You have a right to be treated with dignity and respect. If you are beaten, threatened, called racist names or mistreated, you have the right to complain about that treatment.

Be aware that just because you know your rights and choose to exercise them does not mean that the agents or police will follow the law and respect your rights. The best thing you can do is to know your rights and try to assert them.

The above information comes from More information about your rights when you come in contact with police, FBI agents or immigration agents is available from the National Lawyers Guild at The information is available in many different languages.

If you have any immigration questions or suggestions on topics that you would like to see in this column, please send them to [email protected].

This article is for general information purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice from an attorney.

Patrick Hurley is an immigration attorney in Seattle and writes this column on a volunteer basis. He is licensed by the District of Columbia and an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. Patrick is a graduate of the George Washington University Law School in Washington, D.C. and has worked in the immigration and refugee field in Seattle, Washington, D.C., Kenya, and Thailand. He is also a pro bono attorney for the Northwest Immigrants Rights Project and Chinese Information Service Center. .

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