Much of what you can do if you are arrested by immigration officials depends on where you were arrested. If you are arrested at the border or airport, you may have fewer rights than if you are arrested while at work or on the street following a traffic violation, for instance.
In any event, there are some basic things you can do to protect yourself and to give you the best opportunity to defend yourself.
- You do have the right to remain silent and to ask to speak to an attorney.
- Immigration officials must allow you to either call an attorney or your family.
- You do have to provide any identification so do not refuse to show an ID card if you have one.
- Do not sign anything. You may be signing a voluntary departure agreement that waives your right to a hearing and you may be signing away your right to ever become naturalized.
- Get a friend or relative to find an immigration attorney to represent you. Even if you are low income or indigent, you do not have the right to have a government appointed attorney at no cost. You can often find attorneys at low cost or who will provide free representation.
- If you are brought before a judge and have no lawyer, ask the judge for more time to find one.
- If you do get an attorney, be sure to disclose everything about you including any arrests and convictions. Anything you say to your attorney is confidential and failing to tell your attorney everything could severely hurt your chances.
- Typically, a judge must decide within 48 hours after your arrest whether to proceed with court action, to release you on bond, or to keep you in custody if you are determined to be a threat or danger and may not appear for further hearings.
- Within 72 hours after your arrest, the judge must give you notice of a hearing.
If you are in this country illegally, you still may have some options such as applying for asylum, deferred action or some other status if you have relatives who are US citizens or permanent residents. In all cases, the advice of an immigration attorney is essential.