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Do you have to prove your immigration status at a traffic stop?

On Behalf of | Jun 5, 2024 | Immigration Law

When you’re an immigrant whose status is undocumented or uncertain, any encounter with the police can be stressful – even a routine traffic stop for running a red light or taking a turn too wide. 

Your stress may automatically escalate, however, if the officer who stops you suddenly starts asking questions about where you were born, how you entered the United States and what your citizenship or immigration status may be. Here’s what you need to keep in mind:

You have the right to remain silent

Silence may be your best defense. While there are different rules at international borders and airports, you generally have the absolute right – even if you’re undocumented or otherwise not a citizen – to invoke that right in any encounter with the authorities. 

You do not want to lie, however – and you never want to hand the police any kind of falsified documents. Lying to the police is its own offense, and it could land you in much bigger trouble with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) than anything else that may happen at the traffic stop.

You do not have to wait until you are arrested to invoke your right to remain silent, but you do need to invoke it clearly and directly. That means, even if it is uncomfortable, you have to verbalize your intention to not answer any questions unrelated to the traffic stop without legal guidance. 

Immigrants have sometimes been profiled and targeted by the police, and the traffic stops can be a pretext to try to determine if someone is undocumented. If you believe that your rights were violated, it may be time to seek specific legal guidance.