Know Your Rights: Immigration


Both citizens and non-citizens alike have rights under the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment gives every person the right to remain silent – that is, to not answer questions asked by a police officer or government agent. The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s power to enter and search a person’s home or workplace, although there are many exceptions and new laws have expanded the government’s power to conduct surveillance, as well as the authority for the police to search a person or belongings. The First Amendment protects a person's right to speak freely and to advocate for social change. Nonetheless, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has targeted and continues to target for deportation non-citizens based on political activities. These Constitutional rights are absolute, and cannot be suspended – even during wartime.1


Because transgender individuals with immigration concerns are doubly vulnerable to unjust actions by police and Immigration authorities, there is a strong network of support for transgender community members dealing with immigration issues. This manual aims to be a general and broad resource to answer common and locally-specific questions, but there are many resources on the internet that are also very thorough and helpful. One notable resource was written by Immigration Equality, a national organization, and the Transgender Law Center, an organization based in San Francisco, and published by the American Immigration Lawyer's Association. This resource, entitled “Immigration Law and the Transgender Client,” is a lengthy and thorough manual that provides in-depth information about a large scope of transgender-specific concerns. It is available for sale or for free online.


After September 11, 2001, the U.S. government abolished the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and formed the new Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and re-organized the agencies which oversee immigration. DHS is now the umbrella organization for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is the enforcement and deportation branch; Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS), which is the immigration service and application processing branch; and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which oversees border protection.

  1. Know Your Rights!: What to Do if Questioned by Police, FBI, Customs Agents or Immigration Officers, August 2004, California: National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter, American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Last visited August 1, 2012.