Immigration

How Immigrants Can Prepare for the Worst Case: ICE Arrest and Deportation From the U.S.

Updated by Ilona Bray, J.D., University of Washington Law School
Whether a foreign-born person entered the U.S. illegally, overstayed a visit on a temporary visa, or is otherwise in the United States without permission, there is always the possibility of an arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Whether a foreign-born person entered the U.S. illegally, overstayed a visit on a temporary visa, or is otherwise in the United States without permission, there is always the possibility of an arrest by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This can happen due to a workplace raid, a tip, an arrest by police, or a crackdown.

In 2015 alone, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) conducted 69,478 removals of non-citizens who'd been apprehended within the U.S. (as opposed to at a border crossing).

Know Your Rights in Case of Arrest

Immigrant advocates have reported widespread ICE practices of using intimidation, coercion, threats, and even force against suspected undocumented immigrants. (The agency has even deported U.S. citizens!) But even undocumented immigrants have Constitutional rights. ICE agents have nevertheless regularly violated these rights, including under the Fourth Amendment, which protects all people, including immigrants, from unreasonable searches and seizures and entry without a warrant; and under the Fifth Amendment, which states people's rights against self-incrimination.

In such an environment, you have to be prepared to stand up for your rights. In the event of an encounter with an ICE agent, including if some show up at your home, you may explain that you do not wish to speak with them, answer their questions, or sign or give them any documents, in accordance with your rights under the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

You may also state that you refuse to give them permission to search your belongings or enter your home, in accordance with the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, unless the agents have a warrant, with the signature of a judge or magistrate, and with your name on it.

If the agents claim to have a warrant to enter your home, don't open the door to look at it. Instead, insist that the agents slide it under the door.

Also realize that you should not, except in rare situations, have to leave the U.S. right away. Most immigrants have a right to a hearing in front of an immigration judge. With a full analysis of your case, it may turn out that you have a basis upon which to defend yourself from deportation and remain in the United States. This hearing may take weeks or months to conclude. In particular, avoid signing anything that says you agree to leave the U.S. immediately.

Preparing for Possible ICE Arrest

Here are some planning tools and tips you or a loved one can use if arrest by ICE is a possibility. How long you'll be unavailable depends on whether you already have an order of deportation on your record, whether you are placed into detention (which is likely if you have committed a crime), and other individual factors (and of course, whether you are ultimately deported).

Contact Information

Write down, for yourself and your family, the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of:

  • Your employers. They will need to be contacted so as to make arrangements for remaining family members to get any unpaid wages.
  • Someone who can care for your children if you're detained. Make sure that person knows where your children go to school; that the school has that person's name and number; and that you've signed a form authorizing the school to release your children to that person.
  • Any banks where you have money on deposit, including account numbers.
  • Your immigration attorney, if you have one; or an attorney with whom you've consulted and would like to be the first one your family calls in trying to seek legal representation for you. (The U.S. government does not provide attorneys to immigrants; you will need to find, and pay for, your own attorney.)
Put this information in an accessible place and let your family know where it is.

Belongings.

Odds are, you have worldly possessions that you won't be able take with you if you're deported.

  • If you have money in the bank, make sure your spouse or a loved one has access to the accounts. Put that person's names on the account by making it a joint account, or leave the person a blank, signed check to fill out and cash if you're detained at length or removed.
  • If you have only a few belongings; a little money, clothes, some furniture; make a list of what you have and where it's located. Add to the list who you'd like each belonging to go to if you're deported. Then, sign the list in front of a notary public or witnesses.

If you have a child with a U.S. citizen, make sure the other parent's name is on the child's birth certificate. Talk to an attorney to see whether a maternity or paternity lawsuit might be needed to establish parentage and/or if adoption of the child is necessary.

How will family find you?

If your friends are family are not nearby when ICE arrests you, they may have no idea where you've gone. (ICE agents don't leave notes!) And you may have difficulty getting access to a telephone. One good resource for your family to know about is the ICE Online Detainee Locator system. There, they can search using personal information and find out where you are being held. It may be far from where you live.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Can a minor child be on my checking or savings account as a co-account holder? Can I deposit money into her own separate account?
  • I'm a US citizen.If I marry the mother of my child and she's an undocumented immigrant, does the marriage make her a US citizen?
  • Am I able to continue to work and care for my children during my deportation hearing?
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