Immigrants have rights under U.S. Constitution

Many foreign-born people who reside in Kentucky do not understand that they have guaranteed rights under the United States Constitution that provide a guard against abusive and arbitrary treatment by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service (“ICE”) and other law enforcement agencies. A detailed knowledge of these rights is not required to prevent ICE agents from making an unlawful inquiry or arrest. The following general guidelines offer protection from all but the most egregious abuses.

If any law enforcement official inquires about a person’s immigration status, the person should resist the instinctive urge to flee. A second sound rule is to tell the truth. A person should not lie about his or her immigration status. All immigrants, even if they are not United States citizens, have the right to remain silent when questioned by a law enforcement officer. Likewise, a person can refuse a request to be searched. Immigration papers must be shown if the officer asks for them. If a person does not have papers showing his or her immigrant status, then the questions can be refused, and the person being questioned can ask to remain silent and for time to consult an attorney. Kentucky has no law that requires a person to provide his or her name to law enforcement officers. If a person is pulled over while driving, he or she must produce a driver’s license and vehicle registration to the officer. Persons who have obtained citizenship in the U.S. need only provide their names and addresses.

Gaining entrance to the United States can be a bit more difficult. A U.S. citizen is required only to provide name and permanent address and information establishing their identity. Refusal to answer other questions may delay entry, but a resident cannot be denied entry for refusing to answer these additional questions. A non-citizen visa holder may be asked other questions that are not permitted to be asked of citizens, and a refusal to answer may be grounds for denying entry.

Immigration laws are very complex, and immigrants cannot be expected to have detailed knowledge of their rights. Nevertheless, anyone who is questioned by a law enforcement officer should know that they have the right to remain silent and to contact an attorney.