+ Disclaimer (Click to read) ↓
+ Do I have a right to protest? ↓
+ Is it safe for me to protest? ↓
Undocumented people face greater risks. Undocumented people who are arrested may be detained by ICE, and in certain cases may be deported almost immediately. Undocumented people may also face risks if ICE learns they have attended protests.
People from mixed status families, though not personally at risk, can use the tips in this guide to avoid sharing information with law enforcement that could hurt family members or friends.
It’s important to know the risks and consequences of protesting and decide whether you want to take them. There are also some things you can do to reduce your risk of interacting with law enforcement.
+ Be realistic about the risks of protesting ↓
Before you make the decision to protest, you should understand some of the possible consequences of an arrest for your immigration status. These will depend on your status, where you protest, who arrests you (if you are arrested), and where you are charged.
It’s also important to understand the role and actions of Homeland Security agents at recent protests, including Black Lives Matter protests. We have not heard reports of agents deploying to recent protests in New Jersey. However, Homeland Security agents detained protesters at the George Floyd protests in New York City.
Risks to undocumented people ↓
If you are undocumented, protesting brings significant risks. Undocumented people may be detained if they are arrested at a protest, and in some cases may even be deported immediately. Everyone’s case is different, and we cannot explain all the nuances in this guide. If you are undocumented and still considering protesting, talk to a lawyer to understand your personal risk.
Undocumented people must take care not just to avoid arrest, but also to carefully weigh what they post about the protest on social media. ICE has targeted undocumented leaders for their activism using their social media posts.
Risks to immigrants with a green card, DACA, TPS, DED, or some other lawful status (but not citizenship) ↓
If you have status, getting arrested is a problem if you wind up with a criminal record that makes you lose your status, or prevents you from adjusting to a safer status (e.g. becoming a citizen).
Whether this happens depends on what immigration status you have and what you are charged with. Overall, people with green cards (lawful permanent resident status) tend to have somewhat more protections than people with DACA, DED, or TPS. However, many charges can put even green card holders at risk. In New Jersey, protest arrests can lead to a number of different charges. Possible charges under state law include disorderly conduct and riot.
Unfortunately, while you think the law would clearly say what charges can cause immigration problems, often it does not. As a result, the immigration consequences of a charge may be ambiguous (one reason you may need an immigration lawyer’s help). ICE may take a chance on putting you in immigration proceedings and arguing that the crime you were charged with makes you deportable, even if you ultimately win.
+ Alternatives to protesting ↓
- Encourage allies who are citizens to attend the protest on your behalf. Explain why it’s risky for you to protest and why this is an action they can take to step up.
- Ask university or school district administrators to use their authority to take a strong stand on the issues the protest raises so that you don’t have to do this work. Other figures in leadership roles, like clergy and teachers, may be able to do the same.
- Contribute to a bond fund, or ask allies or friends to donate. New Jersey eliminated cash bail for criminal cases, but immigrants held at New Jersey’s four detention centers need help with bond — particularly with the COVID-19 pandemic putting detainees at risk. First Friends of NJ and NY is still raising money to bond people out of NJ detention centers, and many families set up individual GoFundMes for their loved ones.
+ Before the protest ↓
Learn the basics about the protest. ↓
- Find out who organized the protest, and if the protest was planned and permitted in advance. Ad hoc demonstrations can be more likely to attract police involvement.
- If you can, get information for a contact who is with the protest organizers.
- Go with a group of friends or loved ones. Plan to stick together and set boundaries for when you will leave the event. Also set ground rules within the group about documenting interactions with police.
- Get information about the location and time of the protest and the protest route.
- Check the weather forecast.
- Bring basics like extra face masks (for COVID), water, medications, cash, and a safe form of ID. If you think police could try to break up the crowd, it’s also helpful to bring ear plugs and goggles (if you have them!)
- Memorize the numbers of at least a couple of key contacts so you can reach people if you lose access to your belongings — including your immigration lawyer, if you have one.
Know what to say and not to say to law enforcement. ↓
- If police stop you, ask if you are free to go. If they say yes, you can walk away.
- If police arrest you, you have a legal right to remain silent and ask to speak to a lawyer. If police ask you questions, you should clearly state that you would like to remain silent.
- It is usually safest NOT to share information with the police or immigration officers regarding your immigration status, country of origin, or how you entered the United States. Even if they ask you or insist, you are NOT obligated to answer questions about your immigration status. Be aware that just because police are in a sanctuary state or city does not mean they cannot share information with ICE. While New Jersey has taken some steps to limit cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement, this does not mean individual police officers cannot notify ICE if they encounter you.
Carry a safe form of ID, and clean other forms of ID out of your wallet. ↓
- State-issued ID is a safe form of ID to carry in a protest. People with TPS, DACA, and temporary work visas can get a driver’s license in New Jersey.
- Municipal ID is also a good form of ID. Newark, Elizabeth, Morristown, and several other towns in NJ issue municipal IDs. The NJ Alliance for Immigrant Justice has compiled a guide to towns offering these IDs.
- A school ID may also be a safe form of ID.
- By federal law, green card holders are required to carry proof of their status.
- Avoid carrying your passport or EAD.
- Definitely don’t carry false papers.
Prepare your phone. ↓
Police are legally allowed to search your phone if you have facial recognition or touch ID, but they cannot require you to hand over a numerical password. Set your phone to use a strong numerical password (six digits or more). You do not have to provide this password to police, even if they ask.
Turn off location tracking, Bluetooth, and WiFi on your phone by going to Settings. Avoid creating a digital trail for law enforcement.
United We Dream suggests that protesters consider leaving their phone at home if at all possible. This is particularly good advice if you’re attending the protest with an ally who can help you contact loved ones if need be.
Make plans with your loved ones in case you are detained. ↓
Parents may want to make a plan around who will take care of their children. The state of New Jersey allows you to designate a caretaker for your kids. You can use this form(English/Spanish) to record your agreement with the designated caretaker and say what events would trigger the agreement.
+ At the protest ↓
Reduce your risk while at the protest. ↓
- Conditions at a protest can change quickly. Keep an eye on what is happening around you, and know your personal boundaries are so that you can decide when to walk away.
- Think about where to locate within the protest. The front lines of a protest are often where police make the most arrests, and where protesters are most in danger of physical harm.
- Try to remain aware of your exit routes throughout the protest.
- Police can sometimes be more aggressive in responding to nighttime protests, e.g. if a curfew is in place or there is noise. Consider leaving before it gets dark.
- Deescalate situations that could lead to conflict with other protestors, counterprotesters, or the police. Clashes can attract the attention of law enforcement and lead to violence. Allies in particular should consider learning deescalation strategies. Sometimes putting yourself between your immigrant friends and counterprotestors can be the best way to help. Resources on conflict de-escalation are available here (English), here (English), and here (Spanish).
- Destroying property, tagging graffiti, or starting fires – or being near people who are doing these things – will increase the chances that you come to the attention of police. To reduce your risk of arrest, stay away from protestors doing this.
Stay calm in the hours after an arrest. ↓
- You do not have to consent to a search of your belongings. If police search your belongings or ask if they can search, tell them you do not consent. They may still do it, but saying no can help you in court later.
- Tell loved ones if you are arrested so that they can help you seek resources and assistance. United We Dream’s Notifica app allows you to automatically report an arrest to loved ones.
- If you are taken to a police station, after a reasonable period of time, you should ask police for a phone call so that you can contact a friend or family member. Keep in mind that your conversation may be recorded.
+ After the protest ↓
Seek legal help after an arrest. ↓
If you are arrested by police in New Jersey and placed in criminal proceedings, ask whether you will be assigned a public defender. If you are arraigned in state court on an indictable offense (aka a felony), you will automatically have a public defender.
If you are charged with a disorderly persons offense or a petty disorderly offense (aka a misdemeanor), you will not automatically be assigned a public defender and will have to request one. You should call the clerk of the court where you have to appear, and ask how you can request a public defender. You may have to fill out an application and pay a fee, and you may also explain why you could suffer serious consequences as a result of your legal case. LSNJ has more info on this process here.
If you cannot get a public defender, you can seek assistance by calling the NJ chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which is maintaining a hotline at 908-818-0002. You can also DM @nj_immigrant on Twitter to ask for help seeking an attorney. Whatever strategy you use, you should seek legal assistance to avoid a charge that could have immigration consequences. Even many disorderly persons offenses can have immigration consequences, so don’t assume you’re OK just because you’ve only been charged with one.
When you do get a lawyer, clearly tell your criminal lawyer if you are not a U.S. citizen. If possible, you want your lawyer to seek a way to resolve your situation that does not make you deportable or ineligible to adjust status.
Understand most criminal defense attorneys do not know, practice, or understand immigration law and the immigration consequences of criminal activity. Similarly, most immigration lawyers do not know, practice, or understand criminal defense or the impact of a criminal charge on someone’s immigration status.
In many cases, your immigration lawyer will not represent you in your criminal case. However, if you already have an immigration lawyer, you should still notify them of the arrest and seek their advice. To be absolutely safe, you should consider hiring an immigration attorney if you do not yet have one. In either case, ask to get your immigration attorney’s advice about the effect of your criminal charge in writing. That way, if they provide incorrect advice, you may be able to “fix” or deal with it later.
+ Additional resources ↓
For immigrants ↓
United We Dream has a wealth of resources that are useful for immigrants considering participating in protests, including their UndocuLeaders guide and their Notifica app, which allows you to send a message to contacts if you are detained. UWD’s MigraWatch hotline, at 1-844-363-1423, lets you report the presence of ICE or CBP agents, including at a protest.
NILC has also prepared a variety of resources for immigrants who are considering protesting. They just launched a new, comprehensive know your rights guide on this topic. If you have concerns about whether protesting will affect your rights in the workplace, you can check out their guide to protest rights for employees (English/Spanish). If you’re a union member worried about retaliation, reaching out to your union rep is also a good place to start.
For attorneys ↓
The National Lawyers Guild has prepared a helpful guide to advising clients about the immigration consequences of protest arrests.
For everyone ↓
Protesting in school: The First Amendment protects students’ right to express political views at school (with some limitations) and prohibits some forms of retaliation by administrators. ACLU-NJ has fought to enforce this right in our state. You can learn more about your rights here and here.
Street medics: Groups with long experience serving as street medics or participating in protests have advice for folks looking to keep healthy and safe, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. See here and here. Keep in mind that sometimes the safest course of action is taking someone to an emergency room.
This guide to protesting in NYC contains a wealth of information for folks demonstrating there.
Vision Change Win has produced a detailed guide with extensive protest safety advice for the pandemic and beyond.
A number of groups have prepared resources specifically addressing mass mobilizations around the 2020 election and its aftermath.
- Hold the Line: A Guide to Defending Democracy, by Choose Democracy
- Stopping the Coup: The 2020 Guide
- Also check out this guide prepared by a trainer for 350.org and the Sunrise Movement.
The ACLU has prepared a guide to help protestors understand how and when the law protects them at different steps of a protest.
NJ does not have cash bail in criminal cases! For immigration cases, First Friends of NJ and NY has a bond fund that provides support to detainees at immigration facilities in New Jersey. While their funds are limited, you may try seeking assistance if a loved one is placed in immigration detention by filling out this form. You can also speak to your immigration attorney about bond funds.
+ Why we made this guide ↓
Immigrant youth in New Jersey are powerful! Youth have led many of the major campaigns of the immigrant rights movement in our state, and have turned out in force to support Black lives, economic justice, and worker’s rights.
Undocumented and non-citizen immigrant youth face special risks when they protest due to their immigration status. If this is you, this guide is meant to empower you with information. It discusses the risks and consequences of protesting, steps you can take to mitigate your risk, practical tips for staying safe and healthy at protests, and information on what to do if you are arrested. This guide is also meant for allies who want to better understand the risks that their immigrant classmates and friends take when they demonstrate.
This guide builds on know your rights and protest safety work that has been done over many years by immigrants, BIPOC leaders, and allies, including groups like United We Dream, Vision Change Win, Law 4 Black Lives, National Lawyers Guild, National Immigration Law Center, and ACLU.