What to Do if ICE Comes to Your Workplace: A Quick Guide for Immigrants

If ICE agents unexpectedly show up at your place of employment, the best thing you can do is stay calm and exercise your constitutional rights.

Everyone living and working in the United States, regardless of their legal status, has certain rights under the U.S. Constitution.

If ICE suddenly shows up at your place of work, it’s important for you to know and exercise your rights so you can protect yourself from arrest or detention.

These include your right to refuse an unlawful search and seizure, your right to remain silent, and your right to an attorney, among others.

Further, these rights apply no matter where you are or what you’re doing, meaning that your rights at work are largely the same as your rights at home or on the street.

In this article we’ll cover the basics of these rights. We’ll also list several steps you can take to prepare for, and protect yourself from, a surprise visit by ICE at your place of work.

Your Rights at Work

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All individuals in the United States have certain rights under the U.S. Constitution. These rights are further guaranteed and expanded upon by other laws, regulations, and previous court decisions.

In situations involving law enforcement, it’s usually a good idea to exercise these rights as a way to protect yourself from an unfair or illegal arrest.

Where Can ICE Go in My Workplace?

As a quick note before we begin, you should know that the rules ICE agents must follow in places of business are slightly different from the ones they have to follow at your home.

Basically, like any regular member of the public, ICE can enter areas that are open to normal people.

However, they must have either the approval of the business’s owner or a signed judicial warrant to search any places that are closed to the public.

For example, if you work in a coffee shop, ICE agents are free to enter the front of house where the public normally sits and orders, but would need permission from the owner (or a judicial warrant) to search the back of house.

Similarly, ICE agents generally aren’t able to search farms or other private operations without the owner’s permission or a warrant, since these locations are generally closed to the public.

4th Amendment Right Against Unlawful Search and Seizure

The 4th Amendment of the Constitution notes that:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

4th Amendment – U.S. Constitution

This right basically means that law enforcement (including ICE agents) cannot search you or your “stuff” without a warrant signed by a judge.

In the workplace, law enforcement can search the premises if they receive permission from your employer.

However, they still cannot search your person (your body) or your personal effects without your consent or a judicial warrant.

5th Amendment Right to Remain Silent

Under the 5th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, you have several rights during legal proceedings. Most relevant here is your right against self-incrimination, or, as noted in the Amendment:

No person shall be held to answer for a…crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger.”

5th Amendment – U.S. Constitution

Basically, this amendment gives you the right to refuse questioning when that questioning would force you to incriminate yourself.

Put more simply, if an ICE agent directly asks “Are you an illegal alien?” or any other question for that matter, you have the right to refuse to answer.

If you are questioned by an ICE agent at your place of work, you should simply give them your name and then state that you’re exercising your right to remain silent.

You never have to (and should not) tell the agent anything about your immigration status, your country of origin, or anything else that might give them an excuse to detain you for further questioning.

At most, you should repeat statements that can help you assert your rights.

For example:

  • I do not consent to a search of my belongings (note, however, that they may search anything owned by your employer with your employer’s permission).
  • I do not consent to a search of my person.
  • I want to exercise my right to remain silent.
  • I want to speak to my lawyer.

Basically, you should generally refuse to answer any other questions, and do your best to disengage yourself from the situation as soon as possible.

Access to Counsel (Your “Right to an Attorney”)

Your right to an attorney is not guaranteed by a constitutional amendment, unlike the other rights noted above.

Instead, this right is outlined in a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA):

“In any removal proceedings before an immigration judge, and in any appeal proceedings before the Attorney General from any such removal proceedings, the person concerned shall have the privilege of being represented (at no expense to the Government) by such counsel, authorized to practice in such proceedings, as he shall choose.”

8 U.S.C. § 1362: Right to Counsel

Basically, you have the right to hire an attorney (“counsel”) if you so choose. However, the government will not appoint an attorney for you.

This means that you must hire your own attorney, or risk having no representation at all in your case.

Quick Guide: What You Should Do in the Moment

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When ICE comes to your workplace, there are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and your fellow coworkers.

If you are the employer (or an agent working on behalf of the employer, such as a manager) you can refuse to let the ICE agents into non-public spaces without a warrant, and then ask them to leave.

If you’re an employee, and your employer has given the ICE agents permission to search the premises, there are several important tips you should remember in the moment.

Tip 1: Remain Calm

Generally speaking, the most important tip you can follow in the moment is to stay calm.

Panic can lead to you acting in ways that might raise the suspicions of the ICE agents, even if you’re currently living in the country legally.

Or, put another way, a panicked employee looks like an employee that has something to hide.

Walk—do not run—away from the ICE agents and remove yourself from the situation.

If they try to question you, simply state that you have nothing to say to them and ask if you’re free to leave.

Tip 2: Don’t Resist

Similar to the general advice of staying calm, it’s also wise to avoid running or otherwise resisting if the officers try to question or detain you.

ICE agents can detain individuals when they believe that the individual is in the country unlawfully.

By running, you are giving the agents a reason to arrest you.

By resisting, you are potentially setting yourself up for criminal charges on top of the already serious immigration complications.

The best thing you can do if ICE comes to your workplace is to continue working.

If you are uncomfortable with the situation, walk, don’t run, to another location.

Tip 3: Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent

If an ICE agent begins to ask you questions, you should politely tell them that you’re exercising your right to remain silent, and then ask if you’re free to go back to work.

Remember, you have no obligation to answer the agent’s questions (besides providing your name).

Tip 4: Never Lie or Provide Fake Documents

Never, ever lie in any interaction with law enforcement officers of any kind.

This is especially true when interacting with ICE.

Often, they will cross check your information against various federal databases after detaining or questioning you.

If they find any discrepancies, there is a very high chance that they will arrest you on the spot and place you in removal proceedings.

To avoid this fate, just don’t lie or provide misleading information. Better yet, exercise your right to remain silent, and speak with an attorney as soon as possible after the arrest.

Tip 5: Speak With an Attorney

Immigration law is a bit different from the normal criminal procedures.

While you have a right to an attorney (as in, you may hire an attorney to defend yourself), the court will not provide an attorney for you.

If an ICE agent shows up at your place of work and begins to question you, you should exercise your right to remain silent.

If they detain or otherwise arrest you, you should contact an attorney immediately.

In cases where you aren’t familiar with an attorney, you may want to contact your family members and ask them to find an attorney on your behalf.


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When ICE comes to your office or place of work, you always have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and various protections against unlawful searches of your person or effects.

They will not have access to private areas within the workplace unless your boss or manager gives them that permission.

ICE officials will not question you unless they have reason to believe you are an undocumented immigrant.

For this reason, it’s wise to remain calm, do not resist or run, and just continue on with your work.

If ICE agents do speak with you, simply give them your name and let them know that you don’t want to answer any questions.

Similarly, if you are detained by an ICE agent, you should contact an attorney (either yourself or through your loved ones) immediately.

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