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Refugee and immigrant rights in the United States

Everyone in the U.S. has basic rights no matter their immigration status. The rights you have here may be different from those in your home country. It is important to know your rights so you can protect yourself and your family.

په اساس دي مې 28, 2024

Basic rights

Everyone has basic rights in the USA, even if you are not a citizen or permanent resident. These include the right to speak freely, meet peacefully, to be safe and treated equally, and to have privacy.

You have the right to be treated fairly, regardless of immigration status. This means you cannot be discriminated against or mistreated because you are an immigrant. It is against the law for anyone to discriminate against you based on your:  

  • Age
  • Disability 
  • National origin 
  • Race and color 
  • Religion or faith
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation

Discrimination is illegal in all areas of life, including housing, workplaces, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

Learn more about LGBTQ+ rights.

Right to safe housing 

You have the right to live in a safe and healthy home. Your home should be free from issues like toxic mold, roof leaks, or pest infestations.

If you have a disability, you can ask for reasonable changes in your rental home. Housing providers must accommodate people with disabilities.

Landlords also cannot refuse to rent to you or charge you more because of your immigration status. 

Learn more about finding a place to live

Right to a safe and fair workplace

You have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, free from harmful chemicals and unsafe equipment. You must be paid at least the minimum wage set by state and national laws. 

Your workplace should be free from discrimination and exploitation. Your employer cannot pay you less, deny you a promotion, or fire you just because you are an immigrant. You also have the right to speak up about unsafe conditions without fear of punishment or losing your job.

Undocumented workers have these rights too, though they may face challenges using them. You can get help from local worker organizations and some government agencies without revealing your immigration status. These groups can provide support and guidance.

Learn more about your rights at work and getting a work permit.

Right to free education

All children have the right to receive free public education to get a high school diploma in the United States. This includes elementary and secondary schooling. 

Schools cannot treat you unfairly because of your race or ethnic group.  

Learn more about immigrant student’s rights and laws

Right to emergency medical care

You have the right to receive emergency medical care, even if you do not have health insurance. Hospitals and clinics are required by law to provide emergency treatment to anyone who needs it, regardless of immigration status or ability to pay.

Learn more about going to the doctor.

Rights with police, CBP, and ICE

You have rights when dealing with law enforcement officers. This includes police, Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Officers may briefly hold and question you if they suspect you were involved in a crime. They cannot detain or arrest you without evidence that shows you may have broken the law. They are not allowed to use physical or verbal abuse, intimidation tactics, or threats against you.

Read more about what to do if you are stopped by police or ICE.

Right to remain silent

If police or immigration authorities question you about your immigration status or anything else, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer their questions or sign any documents without a lawyer present.

You can simply say “I do not wish to answer any questions without my lawyer present.” Law enforcement cannot force you to answer questions or punish you for refusing to speak.

Right to privacy

Police must have a warrant signed by a judge giving permission to search you, your phone, your car, or your home. If law enforcement comes to your home, you can talk through the door. Always ask to see their warrant. If they do, they are allowed to search the area specified, but you still have the right to remain silent and contact a lawyer immediately.

Right to fair treatment

If immigration authorities, such as ICE, try to detain or deport you, you have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge. If you are in expedited removal proceedings, you have the right to a credible fear interview and can apply for asylum.

Right to a lawyer

You have the right to a lawyer during any interaction with police. It is important not to answer questions or sign documents without understanding them or talking to a lawyer. 

You also have the right to have a lawyer represent you in immigration proceedings. The government must provide you with information about free or low-cost legal services.

Learn how to find legal help.

Rights in detention

If you are arrested or detained in a criminal jail, prison, or immigration detention facility, you have the right to legal help and a fair hearing to present your case. You also have the right to basic necessities and medical care. 

You cannot be detained indefinitely. There are limits on how long immigration authorities can hold you in detention. If you are at the border, you also have the right to ask for asylum. 

Learn more about what to expect while detained

Right to translation help

You have the right to free translation help in your language with most U.S. government services. If you do not speak English fluently, you can ask for help. These offices cannot refuse to provide you with services because of your language.

Learn how to find free translation help

Rights to public benefits and services

If you need help paying for expenses like food and housing, you may be able to get public benefits depending on your immigration status. Check your state social service agencies for more information.

You can also get free or low-cost food, shelter, transportation, and emergency help in your community. You can get this type of support even if you are undocumented. 

Learn more about public benefits.

Right to travel

You have the right to travel freely within the USA. You can move across states and cities and choose where to live. It is important to carry proper identification and follow local laws when you travel.

If you plan to travel abroad, you may need a travel document to return to the USA. This is based on your immigration status. It is important to check with an immigration legal representative before you travel if you have a pending application. 

Learn more about getting a travel document.

Right to apply for immigration benefits 

You have the right to apply for programs that allow you to live and work in the USA legally. If you are in the United States legally, you can apply for a  Green Card to live and work in the USA permanently and later apply to become a U.S. citizen.

There are also humanitarian programs that help people from countries experiencing disasters, persecution, or other urgent situations. This includes the right to seek asylum at the U.S. and Mexico border. Additionally, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is available for people from specific countries. You can apply for these programs even if you do not have legal immigration status. 

Learn more about humanitarian programs and TPS.

Right to reunite with family 

There are different programs in the United States to help bring your family here to join you. These programs allow you to apply for visas for certain family members.

Learn more about family immigration for green card holders and family reunification for refugees and asylees.

Rights of domestic violence victims

If you are experiencing violence at home by someone you live with, a family member, or a spouse, you have rights. Anyone who experiences domestic abuse has the right to help from law enforcement and access emergency shelter, medical care, and counseling.

Learn more about domestic violence and humanitarian programs that protect survivors such as U Visa and VAWA

Rights by immigration status

Your rights can vary by immigration status as well as by state.

Undocumented immigrants  

If you do not have documents to be in the U.S. legally, you still have rights. You have the right to safe housing, a fair workplace, a free education, emergency medical care, help from law enforcement, and protection against discrimination.

If you have DACA, you can apply for a driver’s license, social security number, and work permit. Starting in November 2024, you will have the right to apply for healthcare through the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Find the latest information on DACA and where to get help.

Stateless people

If you are stateless, you have basic rights, even if you do not have nationality or citizenship in any country. These rights include access to education, healthcare, and protection from discrimination. Stateless people can also apply for certain immigration benefits to get legal status.

Learn more about stateless people’s rights

Refugees and asylees 

The U.S. government offers public benefits and services for refugees and asylees through the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). These include temporary cash assistance, medical insurance, employment services, and English language classes. Refugees and asylees can also apply for a green card after 1 year.

Learn more about ORR benefits.

Naturalized citizens

Naturalized citizens in the USA enjoy the same rights as those born in the country. This includes the right to vote, run for public office, and apply for federal jobs. 

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