Whether you were brought to the U.S. as a young child and your parents never went through the proper channels to have you made a citizen, or you have been illegally residing in the U.S. for decades, you may become nervous whenever you encounter members of law enforcement. And in a tense political atmosphere, with illegal immigration being blamed for nearly all modern society's ills, you may also be reluctant to assert your rights, for fear of prosecution or deportation. However, whether a legal immigrant or not, you do have the same basic human rights afforded to all who live in America. Read on to learn more about the rights you do (and don't) have under U.S. law, as well as the options available to you if you feel your rights are being violated.
What legal rights do you have as an illegal immigrant?
Most U.S. laws aren't written to apply to citizens only -- and generally, unless a law specifically excludes illegal immigrants from its coverage, it is assumed to apply equally to all who live in the U.S. However, in an effort to appear tough on immigration reform, some states have enacted laws specifically excluding illegal immigrants from partaking in certain rights. In most cases, these laws have been struck down by appellate courts.
You have the right to receive bail on all bailable offenses.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently reaffirmed this constitutional principle by striking down an Arizona law that sought to deny bail to all illegal immigrants who had been arrested and charged with certain major felonies. Because American citizens charged with similar crimes were still permitted bail, and because this law did not permit judges to make a case-by-case determination of whether bail was justified, the Supreme Court found that this law was overbroad and unconstitutional. Although the law was ostensibly designed to help protect the public by ensuring that those with strong ties to other countries weren't easily able to escape prosecution in the U.S., in practice it served only as a means to treat illegal immigrants differently from U.S. citizens for no reason other than their ethnic origin.
Bailable offenses generally don't include murder -- so if you are arrested and charged with murder, it's still legal for the judge to deny you the opportunity to bail out of jail before your trial.
You have the right to receive the same minimum wage as other workers.
The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) apply to citizens and non-citizens equally. The FLSA sets forth the minimum wage and other standards related to wage and hour law. Title VII prohibits discrimination or retaliation against individuals on the basis of a number of protected characteristics, including age, sex, race, ethnicity, and natural origin. While employers may legally refuse to hire you due to your lack of a valid Social Security number, once you've been hired, your employer is required to pay you at least the federal minimum wage for all hours worked, and may not fire you or otherwise discriminate against you due to your natural origin.
What should you do if you feel your rights are being violated?
If you feel that your rights have been violated by an employer or a member of law enforcement, you'll want to consult an experienced immigration counseling lawyer. Although many immigration attorneys primarily fight for their clients' citizenship rights, they're also adept in navigating the often complex laws that can govern other aspects of an immigrant's life (including employment law, criminal law, and family law). Your attorney will be able to listen to your concerns and provide advice on the best path going forward.