What to Do If You’re Stopped by an Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officer
Immigration is an emotional issue regardless of your legal status. Sometimes enforcement seems to be based on appearance rather than facts, and “innocent until proven guilty” is applied lightly in many situations. Life can be scary for anyone who even looks foreign-born in cities close to the border like Austin, Texas.
You may not be able to avoid an interaction with Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) if you live around Austin. Texas has the largest number of people in immigration detention in the country, seconded by California and then Arizona. Understanding the laws and how they apply to you can help ease your fears of an encounter with ICE agents, however, and keep you out of trouble you do not deserve.
How to Interact With ICE Officers
Most immigrants will have some interaction with ICE officers in their lifetime. If you live in a neighborhood near a border city or one that is predominantly inhabited by immigrants, you may have more contact than most. Handling these contacts appropriately can help determine the outcome. Some of the expected behaviors might seem counterintuitive or go against your cultural norms, but it is possible for immigrants to have calm interactions with ICE officers.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) makes these recommendations if an officer comes to your door:
- Remain calm and be polite and respectful. Do not give the officers any reason to be angered or fearful. Your demeanor should set the tone for the interaction. Remaining calm will keep the interaction from escalating into a violent scene.
- Do not let the officers into your home unless they can produce a warrant. The warrant needs to be signed by a judge to give them the right to enter your home without your permission. A warrant without a judge’s signature is not enough.
- Deny access to your home. No matter what the circumstances are, let the officers know you do not consent to them entering your house. If they have the proper warrant, they can enter anyway, but your objection should be noted.
- Read the warrant before opening the door. Politely ask the officer to slide the warrant under the door or hand it to you through the window. If they do not have a judge’s signature on the warrant, tell them to leave any information for you outside the door. You can retrieve it after they are gone.
- If the officers enter your house forcefully, step aside. You should reiterate your objection to them entering but do not resist them physically. Make sure everyone in the house remains still and silent. Try to remain calm.
- In the case of an arrest, do not speak except to ask for a lawyer. Do not run or resist arrest. Go calmly and wait for a lawyer to help you.
It can be difficult to remain calm when ICE officers come to your door. You might feel threatened by their authority, and their presence could call your legal status into question. The key to managing these interactions in a calm manner is to know you have rights.
The officers know your rights, but they may count on you acting out of fear instead of knowledge. You need to understand your rights and know how to exercise them without making the situation worse.
Exercising Your Rights When Interacting With ICE Agents
Avoiding the escalation of a situation is a good approach to take if you are stopped by an ICE agent. Knowing your rights and how to appropriately exercise them can help keep the situation calm. If an ICE officer comes up to you in a public place, or if they stop the car you are driving or riding in, these are the rights you can exercise:
- Silence — You have a right to remain silent. No officer can force you to answer questions, say anything or sign any documents. It is a good idea to state the fact that you are exercising your right to remain silent. Your silence may not end the encounter, but it will keep you from saying something that could escalate the situation until your attorney arrives.
- Translation — If needed, you have a right to be instructed or questioned in your native language. It is not a good idea to stumble through a conversation with an ICE officer in a language you are not fluent in. You are likely to make a false statement if you do not thoroughly understand what the officer is asking you. You may ask for a translator. It is a good idea to memorize this phrase: “I need a translator.”
- Privacy — You have the right to refuse to allow a search of your home, car or person. There are circumstances under which a search can be performed without your consent. You are not obligated, under any circumstances, to give your consent. This is a right you should never give up.
- Freedom — Unless the officer can show just cause to detain or arrest you, you are free to go. This right can be exercised with politeness to avoid escalating a situation. Simply ask the officer if you are free to leave. If he says yes, walk away without another word. Stay calm — do not run or drive off quickly. Just move decisively away from the officer.
What If You Are Stopped in Your Car by ICE Officers?
Following the rules of the road is always a good idea when driving your car around Austin, Texas or anywhere else in the United States. There are certain protocols drivers follow when they are pulled over by an officer. Many of these same behaviors are useful to know if you get stopped by an ICE officer.
- Stop safely — As soon as you realize an officer is requesting you to stop, you should pull over. Be sure that you park in a safe place far enough off the side of the road for the officer to approach your car. Slow down immediately and find the closest place to stop your car. Putting on your turn signal can indicate to the officer your intention to pull over as soon as practical.
- Take a non-threatening stance — The officer will need to approach your vehicle, so you should indicate it is safe for them to do so. Open your window, turn the engine off and put your hands on the steering wheel where the officer can see them. If you start moving around in the car, looking through the glove box or reaching under the seat, the officer may consider you a threat to their safety or a flight risk. You do not want to give the officer any reasons to be alarmed.
- Stay calm — Remain in your seat and wait for the officer to approach. In most cases, if you are polite, the interaction will go better no matter what the circumstances. When the officer asks for your license, registration and proof of insurance, let them know you are going to retrieve them from your pocket or the glove box before you start reaching around in the car.
- Remember your rights — Whether you are the driver or the passenger in a vehicle that is stopped by ICE agents, you have rights. Calmly and politely exercise your rights and ask for an attorney if necessary. Never get out of the vehicle unless you are instructed to do so, and do not make any sudden movements.
Any officer who pulls a car over is potentially in danger. Working on the side of the road is hazardous, and the officer has no idea what they will encounter in that vehicle. Officers take precautions when approaching a vehicle to guard their own safety, but it is a good idea for drivers and passengers to offer some reassurance as well. An officer who does not feel threatened will be easier to deal with than one who has their defenses up.
What to Do If a Family Member Is Detained by ICE Agents
You can help a family member who is detained by ICE agents by reminding them of their rights and seeking appropriate counsel for them. You’ll need to find a lawyer for immigration detention to help your family member resolve their situation.
The best solution to immigration detention is to have a plan in place before it happens. If there is any reason for you to suspect that you or a member of your family could end up being detained by ICE officers, take these steps now:
- Decide on emergency childcare — Figure out who would take care of your children if you or your spouse, or both of you at the same time, are detained by ICE. Talk with a trusted neighbor, teacher or friend about emergency care. Let your children know who they can turn to in case you are not home or you do not show up to get them after school. This may seem like a scary thing to tell your kids, but it is better for them to know what to do than be just left alone.
- Find your community advocacy group — Do not wait until you need help to reach out to groups that work with immigrants and immigration problems. Contact the appropriate group in your community and become a member. You may want to volunteer to work with them to help others who are in need right now. At least make the group aware of your concerns so they can help you if you ever need their help.
- Develop a support team — In the event you or a member of your family is detained by ICE agents, you will need a group of people to help you. Your team should include people who can help take care of your children, established members of your community and people with legal knowledge. If your English is not good, you also need to include people on your support team with language skills who can understand and interpret for you. Decide who would be on your support team and talk with them. Explain that in the case of an emergency, there are things you might need them to do for you. Ask if they are willing and able to help if this should happen.
- Gather documentation — If you are approached by ICE officers or they come to your house, be prepared to document your interaction. Practice using the video camera setting on your smart phone or install security cameras at your house that record automatically. Plan to take pictures of the ICE agents if at all possible. Be sure you focus on their names and badge numbers. You cannot prepare this documentation ahead of time, but you can think through how you would obtain it in the event of a raid on your home.
- Memorize two phone numbers — When you are detained, you can make a phone call, but you will not have your cell phone with you. It is important to memorize two phone numbers in case you cannot get through to one of them. Choose a trusted friend, a Texas immigration attorney, a member of an advocacy group or anyone who could help you in a crisis. You will have to rely on the person you call to get in touch with other family members and call other members of your support team to help you.
- Prepare your family — Talk with the members of your family about how to interact with ICE agents and about your rights. You may not be alone when the officers knock on your door. You will want everyone in the house to follow the same strategy of silence, calm and cooperation while exercising your rights. Also, be sure everyone in your family knows who your emergency contacts are.
Having a plan to confront a difficult situation should it arise is always the best way to ensure a better outcome. Take the time while you are not under any pressure to think through all the details of your plan. Knowing what you will do in an emergency tends to reduce stress and helps you act efficiently during an emotional time.
It is not enough to know there are laws to protect you if you are doing the right thing. You have to understand your rights and be willing to stand up for yourself. You also need the help of other members of your family and community to face immigration legal challenges.
When you are ready to make your plan, contact Morales & Sparks for a consultation. Using our online form, you can schedule a legal consultation to better understand your rights and how to be prepared for an immigration challenge. We are the experienced Texas immigration detention attorneys ready to assist you in English or Spanish.
If a member of your family is detained by ICE agents, the immigration lawyers at Morales & Sparks can help. We have the experience that people trust, we employ a large team of legal professionals to work on your case and we get results for our clients. Our attorneys answer their own phones seven days a week to be sure clients can get the answers they need right away. Schedule your legal consultation with our compassionate team today.