Over the last week, about 600 people have been arrested at encampments or sit-ins related to the war in Gaza on at least 15 college campuses across the U.S. We’ve also heard reports that Columbia University has threatened to expel student protesters occupying an administration building.


At protests like these, non-citizens have some additional risks to consider that U.S. citizens do not. Law enforcement will likely be present and – even if you are following the law, any contact with law enforcement is a potential risk. Incidental interactions with law enforcement could lead to arrest, detention, revocation of status, and potentially have other negative immigration consequences.


We understand that some of those arrested are non-U.S. citizens like international students on F-1 visas. In light of this, we want to share some information on your rights and risks when it comes to protesting. The National Lawyers Guild has also published a useful guide: “Know Your Rights: A Guide for Protestors”: https://www.nlg.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/Know-Your-Rights-Booklet-2022.pdf


Do I have to talk to police about my immigration status?

You have the right to remain silent. Whether you are undocumented, out of status, a non-immigrant (like an international student on F-1 visa, a visiting professor or researcher on a J-1 or H-1B visa), a green card holder, or a citizen, you do not have to answer any questions about your immigration history or status. But also know that you should not lie or provide false documents. If you have a lawyer, you can say that your lawyer will answer questions for you.


Should I carry my visa or other immigration documents with me at a protest?

The best practice is to carry copies, not the original document. Having a copy of your unexpired I-94, Employment Authorization Card, student visa, or other papers can prove your status, while keeping the originals safe. Keep a copy of your immigration papers with a trusted person who can scan them to you, if needed.


What are my rights if I am detained?

You have the right to speak to a lawyer. You can refuse to sign anything until you have had the opportunity to speak to a lawyer. Never sign something if you do not understand it. Do not discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer.


I’m an international student, what happens if I get arrested at a protest?

If you are arrested, charged, or convicted while participating in a protest, this could impact your current/future immigration status or visa applications, and your interactions with immigration and consular authorities. You will also have to disclose this on any future applications. Finally, depending on the specific charge in question (and the state) this could result in a finding of inadmissibility for non-citizens.


What happens to my student visa if I am suspended or expelled from school?

If you are in the U.S. as an international student, your student visa is dependent on you maintaining your student status. Any suspension or expulsion from school could impact your ability to maintain your student status or change to another status.


Should I protest if I am a non-U.S. citizen?

The U.S. has a long tradition of protest. The Constitution protects our right to gather for protests (freedom of assembly) and speak out (freedom of speech). And these protections are not just for U.S. citizens – they also apply to international visitors who participate in lawful public demonstrations and protests. However, as outlined above, non-U.S. citizens have some additional things to consider when exercising these rights. If law enforcement gives any instruction to end activities or leave the area, you should comply with those instructions to avoid an arrest or charge.


Should you chose to participate in an action of demonstration, we always advise that you educate yourself on your rights and risks and how to stay safer while protesting on campus.


The right to free speech is a privilege that we don’t take lightly. And regardless of your views on the current protests, we want to close with this quote from Evelyn Beatrice Hall:


I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.



McEntee Law Group is a full-service immigration law firm that handles inbound U.S. immigration and Irish Citizenship by descent. To speak with an attorney at our firm about your immigration options or questions about your potential case, please email info@mcenteelaw.com or call (773)828-9544.

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