Advice to the Undocumented: Stay Silent
Compiled by Donna Muhs-McCarten


The undocumented and non-citizens DO have legal rights under the US Constitution, including the right to equal protection of the law and due process. In the US, non-citizens are persons who do not have US citizenship, including lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers, persons who have permission to come to the US for reasons like work, school or travel, and those without legal immigration status of any kind. Non-citizens who are in the US-no matter what their immigration status-generally have the same constitutional rights as citizens when law enforcement officers stop, question, arrest, or search them or their homes.

Below are excerpts from the ACLU booklet, "Know Your Rights" (

Q: What can I do if law enforcement officers want to question me?

A: You have the same right to be silent that US citizens have, so the general rule is that you do not have to answer any questions that a law enforcement officer asks you. However, there are exceptions to this at ports of entry, such as airports and borders.


Q: Do I have to answer questions about whether I am a US citizen, where I was born, where I live, where I am from, or other questions about my immigration status?

A: You do not have to answer any of the above questions if you do not want to answer them. But do not falsely claim US citizenship. It is almost always a good idea to speak with a lawyer before you answer questions about your immigration status. Exception: Non-immigrants are non-citizens who are authorized to be in the US for a particular reason or activity, such as a person with a tourist, student, or work visa. Immigration officers can require non-immigrants to provide information related to their immigration status. You can still say that you would like to have your lawyer with you before you answer questions, and you have the right to stay silent.


Q: Do I have to show officers my immigration documents?

A: The law requires non-citizens who are 18 or older and who have been issued valid US immigration documents to carry those documents with them at all times. (These immigration documents are often called "alien registration" documents. The type you need to carry depends on your immigration status. Some examples include an unexpired permanent resident card ("green card"), I-94, Employment Authorization Document (EAD), or border crossing card.) Failure to comply can be a misdemeanor crime. If you have your valid US immigration documents and you are asked for them, it is usually a good idea to show them to the officer because it is possible that you will be arrested if you do not do so. Keep a copy of your documents in a safe place and apply for a replacement immediately if you lose your documents or if they are going to expire. If you are arrested because you do not have your US immigration documents with you, but you have them elsewhere, ask a friend or family member (preferably one who has valid immigration status) to bring them to you. If you tell an immigration officer that you are not a US citizen and you then cannot produce valid US immigration documents, there is a very good chance you will be arrested.


Q: What should I do if immigration officers arrest me?

A: Assert your rights. Non-citizens have rights that are important for their immigration cases. You do not have to answer questions. You can tell the officer you want to speak with a lawyer. You do not have to sign anything giving up your rights, and should never sign anything without reading, understanding and knowing the consequences of signing it. If you do sign a waiver, immigration agents could try to deport you before you see a lawyer or a judge. The immigration laws are hard to understand. There may be options for you that the immigration officers will not explain to you. You should talk to a lawyer before signing anything or making a decision about your situation. If possible, carry with you the name and telephone number of a lawyer who will take your calls.


Q: Do I have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any law enforcement officers' questions or signing any immigration papers?

A: Yes. You have the right to call a lawyer or your family if you are detained, and you have the right to be visited by a lawyer in detention. You have the right to have your attorney with you at any hearing before an immigration judge. You do not have the right to a government-appointed attorney for immigration proceedings, but immigration officials must give you a list of free or low-cost legal service providers.

RESOURCES: National Immigration Law Center: (213) 639-3900,

National Immigration Project: (617) 227-9727,