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Guide to Protesting for Non-US Citizens

Sami Villaca
Client Services Associate

Co-authored by Sami Villaca and Emma Cibula, Client Services Associates

Over the weekend, the world watched as protesters across the U.S. took to the streets to demand justice for the deaths of Black Americans including George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor. At Bridge, we’re extending resources for all international employees to safely and effectively exercise their rights in supporting causes about which they are passionate.

All individuals residing in the United States, regardless of citizen or non-citizen status, maintain constitutional rights, such as the right to free speech, the freedom of assembly, and the right to an attorney. While these constitutional rights are afforded to all individuals in the U.S., criminal charges and proceedings incurred by non-citizens can pose challenges to adjusting status to that of a Permanent Resident (Green Card) or obtaining U.S. citizenship in the future. The recent political actions across the U.S. recently have brought these issues to the forefront, and have raised a number of questions regarding non-citizens’ rights as protestors and to take place in public demonstrations.

ICE Response to Protests

On Monday, 6/1, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) confirmed they will deploy personnel and resources to support local, state, and federal law enforcement in U.S. cities where protests continue to escalate. ICE spokeswoman Danielle Bennett confirmed in a statement to multiple media outlets: “In light of civil unrest taking place across the country, ICE personnel and Special Response Teams have been deployed to protect agency facilities and assets in support of the Federal Protective Service and assist local, state and federal law enforcement partners, as needed.” 

The agency’s binding 2011 internal memorandum stipulates that agents should generally avoid making immigration arrests at sensitive locations, which includes sites of "public demonstration”. Accordingly, Bennet adds: “ICE policy limiting immigration enforcement at sensitive locations such as protests, hospitals, and schools, except when there is an imminent public safety or national security threat, will remain in effect.”

ICE has not disclosed how many agents were deployed to help local, state, and federal law enforcement at these recent protests and demonstrations. Additionally, CBP spokeswoman Stephanie Malin has confirmed that the deployment of immigration enforcement agents “is about supporting the efforts of our federal, state, and local partners” and “not about carrying out CBP’s immigration enforcement mission.”

Nevertheless, many immigration advocates have denounced ICE and CBP involvement in the protests. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argues that the agency has a history of ‘using excessive force and civil rights abuses.’ Moreover, the Executive Director of the National Immigrant Justice Center, Mary Meg McCarthy, adds: “As we support those across the country who are protesting violations of human rights at the hands of police and other government actors, we also condemn the Trump administration’s use of the Department of Homeland Security, including Customs and Border Protection officers and equipment, to surveil protests and militarize cities around the country in recent days.”


For international employees and other non-citizens taking part in protests and public demonstrations, we recommend remaining vigilant if interactions between protesters and law enforcement appear to be turning hostile. While it is important to remove yourself from a situation where it appears that protesters are being arrested en masse, please note that protesters’ arrests have been on the rise in recent days.

In many situations, arrest for certain crimes could lead to international individuals being deemed inadmissible into the U.S. In other instances, a waiver could be required for reentry or adjusting status to that of a Permanent Resident (Green Card). Many factors including the type of crimes resulting in arrest, as well as the particular state in which the arrest is made, can contribute to raising the consequences to the level of inadmissibility. Moreover, for immigrant and non-immigrant visa holders, an arrest could also impact U.S. citizenship applications in the future, by affecting the applicant's ability to establish “good moral character” in the naturalization process. 

As a non-citizen, if you do come into contact with law enforcement or if you are taken into police custody, please remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to speak to an attorney. You may bring contact information for your own attorney. If you are charged criminally and you do not have an attorney or cannot afford an attorney, a criminal defense attorney will be provided to you free of charge.

Moreover, as a non-citizen protesting or taking part in demonstrations, it is important not to do any of the following to law enforcement: 

  • lie about your immigrant or citizenship status; 
  • provide documentation you know to be inaccurate or false; 
  • sign anything in immigration custody without consulting your attorney; 
  • plea without consulting your attorney for a full comprehension of the terms to which you are agreeing to a plea; 
  • challenge law enforcement on the street; 
  • discuss your immigrant status with anyone aside from your attorney. 

Further information for interacting with law enforcement and in immigration custody as a non-citizen can be found here.

If you, as a non-citizen, do not feel comfortable physically attending protests, there are a number of other ways to virtually protest, including donating to a number of organizations, sharing posts and voicing your opinions on social media, particularly with relevant hashtags such as #blacklivesmatter, and reading educational materials and texts on anti-racism.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a Bridge-affiliated partner attorney or another qualified legal professional.


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