As protests demanding justice for George Floyd’s death rage on across the globe, many are now grappling with tricky questions about these protests- what they mean, what they do, and who gets to participate. Specifically, the question of how non-citizen immigrants can safely participate in public protests, as police presence remains to be a major concern for many people of color.

Despite the majority of public protests originating as peaceful, police instigation and intervention has led to heightened aggression. Even choosing to take part in a peaceful protest now poses risks of police arrests.

Living in Houston, where George Floyd once lived, I have been so proud to see my city engaging in powerful demonstrations against police brutality. But as my friends gear up to attend the demonstrations, I’ve hesitated to take part. As a non-citizen immigrant, I struggled to understand how I could safely protest. It’s frustrating knowing that the very system I want to protest against so dangerously threatens me. Especially because as an immigrant, I owe a great deal to the Black community.

I want to express my support with the Black Lives Matter movement and so do so many non-citizen immigrants. Of course, it’s important to note that participating in demonstrations is not the only way to support the Black Lives Matter movement. Actively educating yourself and those around you, donating to charitable organizations, and signing petitions – these are all necessary forms of support. If you’re worried about the potential repercussions of protesting, know that you can still be an ally. Undocumented immigrants, those with expired visas, and those with prior convictions face more severe consequences than other immigrants. Due to the high rates of arrest and the presence of ICE at several protests, it is critical to underscore how dangerous it is for you to go; you might want to allow those with more privilege to march on the front lines and instead focus your efforts on safer forms of allyship.

However, if you do choose to protest, here are some key things you ought to know.

The most important thing to know is that no matter your resident status, you have the right to protest. This right is protected in the constitution and the first amendment applies to all immigrants and non citizens just as it applies to citizens. If you do choose to participate in protests, you are not doing anything you’re not permitted to. However, before attending any type of demonstration, non-citizens must understand that the consequences they could face are severe. Immigrants, both documented and undocumented, could face deportation if they are arrested during protests. Therefore, there are several precautions that protesters ought to be taking to safeguard themselves.

Follow all the necessary precautions applicable for citizens. Bring the business card and know the number of a criminal defense attorney. Many lawyers are providing pro-bono assistance to protesters. Let someone know that you are going to the protest and turn off your location so you can’t be traced back to a demonstration. Make sure you are covering any tattoos, piercings, or identifiable features. Don’t post pictures of yourself at the protest and report any posts that show your face.

As immigrants, however, there are additional steps that you should take. In addition to knowing a criminal defense lawyer, make sure you have the information of an immigration attorney available. Bring a card with their information and write it down somewhere on your body in case your belongings are taken away. You do not have to bring your documentation to protests, and in fact, should probably refrain from doing so. Losing these documents – passports, green cards, etc – will have serious repercussions as they are incredibly hard to replace.

You are also not required to disclose your immigration status or present any documents to police officers. However if ICE is present at protests, you will have to comply with them. This is why it’s so important to have an immigration lawyer ready to represent you before you go to the protest. Do not say or sign anything until you contact your immigration lawyer.

If you’re an international student worried about legal repercussions, check in with your university. Several universities are offering legal assistance to their students who are arrested during protests and may be able to provide you with legal representation, or at least help you find the resources you need.

It is also much safer to bring a friend with you to the protests. Give a friend the number of your lawyers and, if you get arrested, ask them to record the badge numbers of the officers who arrest you.

Finally, if you feel that a demonstration is becoming an unsafe environment and there is a heightened risk of arrest, leave at once. You are not wrong for prioritizing your safety.

In our society, it is easy for immigrants to buy into the idea that we have no power. We do and you have the constitutional right to express that power. If you choose to protest, know that you can express your views, and if you want to make a difference you can. Take care of yourself, take care of your loved ones, and know that, no matter how you choose to fight the good fight, you are doing important work.

If you’re interested in more comprehensive information, take a look at these resources!

ACLU: Know Your Rights-Immigrant Rights

ACLU: Know Your Rights-Protesters Rights

National Lawyers Guild: Know Your Rights While You Protest

Elle: How to Find Pro Bono Lawyers Helping Black Lives Matter Protesters

  • Apoorva Verghese is a Paul Tulane Scholar at Tulane University, studying psychology and anthropology. She serves as an editor for the Intersections section of the Tulane Hullabaloo and her work is forthcoming in the Brown Girl Magazine print anthology. In her free time, she can be found experimenting with her new Nespresso machine with varying degrees of success.