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US immigration law: Do you know your rights?

If you want to incite debate at a gathering of friends, family members or co-workers, the mere mention of U.S. immigration law will likely do the trick. It's definitely a controversial topic, with most Texas residents having strong opinions regarding immigration-related issues.

Whether you are a newcomer in the United States or have been living and working here for years, you can no doubt relate to how stressful it can be to encounter legal status challenges. Unfortunately, many people have experienced situations that prove that being a naturalized U.S. citizen doesn't guarantee that you will not face legal obstacles at some point. That's why it's so important to know how to protect your rights.

If you have documents, carry them with you

If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen or green card holder, etc., it pays to always carry copies of your legal status documents with you. This way, you can always be prepared to show that your paperwork is in good order.

ICE and police must have justifiable cause

If an immigration or law enforcement officer detains you, he or she must have a legitimate reason to do so. In most cases, if the officer or ICE agent does not suspect you of a crime or has a valid warrant for your arrest, you may ask to leave the scene.

You do not have to undergo interrogation alone

You may request permission to secure legal representation before answering questions that officials may be able to use against you. If you're not a U.S. citizen, there is no requirement upon the state to assign a public defender to your case. However, you have a right to request and secure legal representation.

It's never a good idea to try to beat the system

Even if you're well aware of your rights and events are not unfolding in your favor, it's always best to tell the truth and admit if you do not have the answer to a particular question. Trying to lie about lack of identification or legal status documents is likely to make matters worse, not better. 

Never agree to sign anything

At all times, but especially if you have trouble reading and understanding English, it's best to avoid signing any papers if an ICE officer takes you into custody. Many people have unknowingly waived their rights to a deportation hearing by agreeing to sign documents because they were too nervous or afraid to decline.

Protect your rights

It's understandable that you'd feel stressed or fearful if you're out with friends or loved ones and an ICE agent or law enforcement officer approaches and starts asking questions or demanding information. It's best to try to remain calm and to know where to seek immediate support.

The more you learn ahead of time about your rights and how to protect them, the better prepared you'll be if a situation arises that involves ICE or places your legal status at risk. 

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