Know your rights as a refugee in the USA
Refugees, immigrants, lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and US citizens all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. In the USA, we all have rights. This information is to help you know your rights. At the bottom of this page, you will find links to this information in Nepali, Somali, French and Arabic.
This information is meant to educate you. It should not be in any way considered legal advice. Our intention is for people to be prepared and NOT scared.
- Non-U.S. citizens, including lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylees, generally have the same rights as citizens.
- If you believe your rights have been violated, you should talk to a lawyer.
- If you or your family members are ever in need of emergency assistance, immediately call 911.
We are living in difficult times. Recent actions against refugee resettlement, refugees and immigrants in the United States have created fear and concerns for many. Everyone has rights, including refugees, asylum seekers, asylees, immigrants, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), U.S. citizens, and individuals in the United States without status.
We all deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of where we are from or how we pray. We all have rights. This resource is meant to provide refugees with urgently needed information. You must know your rights in response to the important issues facing our communities. This resource is not intended to create fear of law enforcement entities. It is important to understand that emergency service personnel (police, medical personnel, and firefighters) are available to help any person in an emergency. Always call 911 in an emergency. Know your rights – refugee rights.
Your rights at home
What if federal agents come to my home to talk to me?
There have been reports of agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and/or the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) visiting refugees’ homes to talk to them.
Here is what you can do if someone tries to enter your home:
Do not open the door
Immigration enforcement or the FBI can’t come into your home without a warrant. If a warrant is presented, check the date and signature. If it is signed by a judge and the date is valid, you must let them in and can exercise your right to remain silent. If a warrant is not presented, they can only come in if you or someone else invites them in.
Do not speak
In the USA, you have the right to be silent and not say anything to the police. Anything you say can and will be used against you in court. You can tell the agents, “I plead the Fifth Amendment” and do not speak.
Call a lawyer
There are free and low-cost lawyers who can help you
Do not sign anything
Don’t sign your name on any papers without talking to a lawyer.
Get a trustworthy lawyer. Also, ask your community to advocate for you. If you are detained, you may be able to get bail and be released. Don’t give up hope.
Remember: you have the right to choose not to answer any questions.
Your right to travel
Can I still travel outside of the USA with refugee status or a green card?
We recommend individuals from six countries – Syria, Iran, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Libya – do not travel at this time, unless it is extremely urgent or an emergency.
- There is a high risk of traveling outside the USA for individuals who do not have US citizenship.
- If you or your loved ones are outside the USA and are planning to return, you should contact an attorney here in the USA before embarking on your journey. The person traveling should make sure to have all their documents, including a passport, green card, or refugee travel document.
- Refugees who do not have a green card or US citizenship should not travel outside of the USA at this time for any reason, even if you are not from the six named countries.
- Law enforcement officers at the airport and at port of entries have the authority to conduct a “routine search” of all luggage and to ask you questions about your citizenship and travel itinerary. If you are selected for a secondary interview at the airport, you have the right to ask for a lawyer. Many lawyers are making themselves available free of charge for this purpose.
- If you or someone you know is detained, you can email the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) at email@example.com, call your local ACLU, and report your or others’ experience to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA).
Remember: If you do travel, you will need to bring your documents with you.
Your right to be safe in your community
What if I am a victim of harassment in my home or neighborhood?
- Your refugee status grants you legal status in the United States, and you have the right to receive the same treatment as US citizens.
- Your local police are there to serve you as a member of the community and protect you when you need it. If you are the victim of a crime, you should immediately call the police: 911.
- If you feel that you are in danger, or if someone is making threats against you or your family, do not try to talk to them or confront them. You should immediately call the police by dialing 911.
- If you are worried about your safety, talk to someone at your refugee resettlement agency or to a lawyer.
- If you believe you or someone you know has been a victim of a crime or discriminated against because of your religion, nationality, or group membership, you should also report it to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
Remember: call 911 if you or someone you know is in danger.
Your right to practice your religion
Can I practice my faith without any fear of being victimized?
You have a constitutional right to practice your religion. You have the right to go to a place of worship, attend and hear sermons and religious lectures, participate in community activities, and pray in public. If you experience religious discrimination or are targeted because of religion, contact the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Remember: the law is on your side to protect you.
Your right to advocate for your community
As a refugee, you are a very important advocate. Your voice can have a great impact because you are a refugee. You have the right to:
- Call and meet with elected officials in your town, state, and in Congress to develop a relationship, educate them about your contribution to the community, and seek their support for refugee resettlement and issues you care about.
- Share your story as a refugee to help transform the public narrative about refugees.
- Join diverse voices such as resettlement staff, faith leaders, employers, military veterans, other refugee leaders, and supportive community members to take action together.
Remember: your voice matters.
Lawful permanent residents who are accused of crimes
If you are not yet a citizen and you are arrested or accused of a crime, make sure your lawyer understands your immigration status because minor offenses can result in deportation for non-US citizens. Pleading guilty as part of a plea bargain can jeopardize your legal status and could eventually lead to removal.
If you have a criminal conviction on your record, it is recommended that you contact a lawyer to understand all your options. If you are able to get a “set aside” or “expunge” your conviction, this could clear your record, but the laws are different in each state, so it is best to consult a lawyer about these questions.
Remember: talk to a lawyer if you are accused of even a minor crime.
Your rights if you are interviewed by a federal agent
Agents from the FBI or DHS may seek to talk with you. You have the right to decline to be interviewed, but this can be viewed with suspicion. Talk to your lawyer or representative from your resettlement agency first about the interview request.
If you agree to an interview, you have the right to have an attorney present.
- You can choose the time and place for the interview.
- You can request to know what the questions will be at the interview and have an interpreter present.
- Do not give any false information during your interview. You do not have to answer all the questions you are asked, if you are not comfortable.
- If you are waiting for your family member to be resettled to the U.S., it may take longer, but they still have the same opportunity to apply for resettlement.
Remember: you MUST NOT give false information during your interview. It will be considered a criminal offense and may result in negative consequences.
Be aware of law enforcement surveillance
Entrapment is a practice whereby a law enforcement officer induces a person to commit a criminal offense that the person may have otherwise been unlikely to commit. Since undercover agents sometimes may monitor Muslim or immigrant communities, it is important to always maintain situational awareness and consciousness, hold true to your values, and not be lured into activities that could be illegal.
You and your families may experience some form of surveillance. The purpose of surveillance is to gather information and the techniques can be categorized into three types: covert, overt, and electronic surveillance:
- Covert surveillance is when the individual is not able to detect someone gathering information on them. This can be done by following the individual from a distance, searching through garbage receptacles left of public property, and using microphones to listen in on conversations.
- Overt surveillance is visible and is what is being most frequently reported by refugee communities. This type of surveillance can be accomplished by knocking on doors and asking questions, openly talking to neighbors, etc.
- Electronic surveillance focuses on monitoring internet, website pages, and using listening devices. Overall, surveillance is a legal process used by local, state, and federal law enforcement. The specific laws and regulations vary from state to state and it is advised to speak with a lawyer if you feel you are under surveillance.
Monitoring of internet activities
Be careful not to visit websites that might hold extremist ideologies or engage in online conversations with others who might hold radical views.
There is often a generation gap between how parents are accustomed to using the internet and how children or youth use social media. Talk to your children and teenagers about what are appropriate internet sites to visit and what you expect them to avoid. Monitor your children and teenagers’ activity online and encourage them not to visit websites or participate in online activity that could be perceived as problematic. Consider setting guidelines ahead of time or even using software that can restrict their use. There are apps you can use to help parents track their children’s cell phone activities.
Remember: it is important to be careful about what websites you visit. Do not visit sites with extremist views because the government could think you are connected to terrorism.
Additional information and resources
There are many organizations that offer helpful information and resources about your rights and ways to keep yourself, your family, and your community safe. Unfortunately, there are also rumors and false information circulating on social media and online communities, as well as scams that seek to take advantage of refugees and other immigrants. Please make sure that you seek information from credible sources, especially when searching for information online.
Thank you to Church World Service for preparing these materials to help refugees KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.
- Read or download this information in Nepali
- Read or download this information in Somali
- Read or download this information in Arabic
- Read or download this information in French
- Read or download this information in English
- The International Refugee Assistance Project
- Immigrant Defense Project
- Informed Immigrant
- American Civil Liberties Union
- Council on American-Islamic Relations
- Customs & Border Protection
- Refugee resettlement offices by state
- Map of immigration legal service providers
- For schools
- For non-profit organizations
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