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Non-Citizen Searches and Arrests in New Orleans: Know Your Rights

If you’ve spent any time in the United States as a non-citizen, you’ve likely heard people making comments that non-citizens do not have rights in this country. That simply is not true. As a foreign national in the United States, you have many of the same rights U.S. citizens do when you are within the nation’s borders. Also, know that the U.S. government cannot suspend Constitutional rights, even during wartime.

The largest difference between you and someone who has citizenship is the danger of being deported if you violate the law. One common reason U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rely on to deport non-citizens is their involvement in political activity. Historically, ICE has blurred the line between First Amendment rights such as freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, and freedom to petition the government with political activity. In many cases, ICE uses the broad category of “political activity” to target non-citizens.

Protests erupted in hundreds of cities and towns across the United States and the world after police officers in Minneapolis killed an unarmed African-American man when one of the officers kneeled on his neck for more than eight minutes. These protests have provided an opportunity for ICE to target non-citizens for deportation.

When law enforcement arrests protesters, they turn non-citizens over to ICE for detainment and processing. Protests in New Orleans have remained fairly steady during June and July 2020. Unfortunately, many non-citizen residents in New Orleans have also been arrested and detained by ICE.

If you or any other non-U.S. citizen you know has been arrested in New Orleans or you get arrested in the future, you need to know your rights. Below, we provide a broad overview of your rights when arrested with some tips to help you protect those rights.

You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Any time you choose to speak to law enforcement when they approach you or arrest you, they can use your words against you at a later date. Even comments and discussions that seem innocent to you, can lead to you saying something that might hurt your case. The police might also use your comments to argue you gave consent to a search during a traffic stop or if they came to your home.

It’s in your best interest to stay silent. You can respond to questions with any of the following comments:

  • “I choose to remain silent.”
  • “I want to speak to my attorney.”
  • “You do not have my consent to search my home/vehicle/purse/backpack.”

Remember, New Orleans police and ICE can ask you any questions they want, but you do not have to answer any of them.

Cops Can Only Search You For Weapons

If New Orleans Police arrest you, they have the right to search your body or frisk you for dangerous weapons. They do not have the right to touch your body or search for other things. However, if they feel something illegal and uncover it during a body search, they will use it against you.

You Do Not Have to Sign a Rights Card When Detained

When police officers arrest U.S. citizens, they must read them their Miranda Rights, which include:

  • The right to remain silent
  • The right to know that anything you say can be held against you in a court of law
  • The right to an attorney
  • The right to have an attorney provided for you if you cannot afford one

These same rights are afforded to you under the U.S. Constitution; however, the police do not need to read them to you upon arrest. If New Orleans Police arrest you, they might request you to sign a “rights card,” to acknowledge they have informed you of your rights. You do not have to sign a rights card. If you chose to sign the card, make sure you indicate that you do not waive your rights and you will not speak without a lawyer present.

Non-Citizen Searches in New Orleans

The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from searches and arrests without warrants, but they are legal in some situations. For example, if law enforcement suspects ongoing criminal activity or makes a lawful arrest, they do not need a search warrant.  In any case, the following rights apply if NOPD tries to search your property without a warrant:

  • The police do not need a search warrant to search your car during a traffic stop, but they must have a reason, legally referred to as probable cause.
  • They must arrest you before they can look through bags, backpacks, or purses in your car without a warrant.
  • If you consent to the search, the cops can use anything they find against you in court.
  • You do not have to let ICE or New Orleans Police into your house if they do not have a warrant. Yet, it’s likely they will arrest you anyway if you try to stop a warrantless search. It’s in your best interest to continually repeat that you do not consent to the search and call a lawyer.
  • Whether the police have a warrant or not, never offer to open anything for them, but do not stand in their way either.

Confrontation vs. Detainment or Arrest

Police might approach you to ask you questions. In fact, they likely will act friendly to get you to speak. They know that once you choose to remain silent, they won’t get any more information from you if you have any to give. A confrontation or interaction with the police is different from arrest or detainment. Sometimes police let people think they are being detained, when in fact they are not. If you are unsure, ask if you are being detained. If they haven’t arrested you, you can leave.

Get the Legal Help You Need After ICE or NOPD Arrests You in New Orleans

The skilled legal team at Stephenson, Chávarri & Dawson have more than 50 years of combined experience serving non-U.S. citizens in New Orleans and throughout the country. If you or someone you love has been arrested in New Orleans, you are likely overwhelmed, scared, and unsure of the next steps. Contact us today online or call 504-523-6496 to discuss your legal needs and learn how we can help.

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