As protests against Israel and the war in Gaza continue to spread across the U.S., some politicians are calling for non-citizen protesters to be deported. Can foreign students, asylum seekers, Green Card holders, and other non-citizens be deported for participating in protests?

As usual in immigration matters, the answer is: It depends. Here, we'll discuss whether and under what circumstances the government can deport non-citizens for participating in demonstrations.

Before we get to the protests, let's talk about deportation in general. As you know, people without status in the United States or whose status has expired can be deported. But the government can't just stick you on a plane and hit the launch button. There is a process that involves attending a hearing in Immigration Court where the Department of Homeland Security (the prosecutor) must prove that you do not have the legal right to remain here. Even if you are deportable, you can file applications for relief, such as asylum, as a defense to deportation. If the judge orders you deported, you can appeal. This process is not fast, and it usually takes a few years before a removal case is finally resolved (detained cases move more quickly).

So the first thing to know is this: If you are a person in the United States without legal status, any contact with law enforcement can land you in removal proceedings. Some states and cities are better than others when it comes to referring detained non-citizens to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but generally speaking, it is a bad idea to get yourself arrested if you are here without any lawful status. An undocumented person--like every other human being in our country--has a right to free speech, and so can attend a demonstration, but it would probably be wise to avoid a situation where protesters are being arrested.

People in the U.S. on a temporary visa, such as a student visa, work visa or tourist visa, are less vulnerable than people without legal status. However, if you lose or violate your status, you become deportable. And so if you are a student who is expelled from school or a worker who loses her job, that could make you deportable. It may be possible to maintain status by quickly enrolling in another school or finding a new job, or by filing to change to a new non-immigrant status (using form I-539) before your current status ends, but from an immigration standpoint, it would be better to avoid activities that cause you to lose your status.

For people on temporary visas (students, workers, tourists) as well as asylum seekers, asylees, and people with Green Cards, there are a few other ways to land yourself in removal proceedings. First, if you are convicted of a crime, that could make you deportable. There is obviously a wide range of criminal activity that could apply here. Some types of convictions may not have any immigration consequences; others will, and sometimes a seemingly innocuous crime can have serious immigration consequences. Also, some types of criminal behavior may subject you to mandatory immigration detention or other types of restrictions, such as an ankle bracelet. In short, as I frequently advise my clients, don't commit any crimes until you are a U.S. citizen.

Finally, one way any non-citizen can run into trouble is if they provide material support to terrorists. While it seems like a long way from protesting a war to supporting terrorists, powerful people have accused pro-Palestinian protesters of supporting Hamas (a designated terrorist organization). While such accusations are mostly false, there are examples of protesters who are expressing support for Hamas or for violence. I think if non-citizens engage in such activities, there is some risk to their immigration status. That's because the Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds are very broad, and include anyone who "incited terrorist activity with intent to cause serious bodily harm or death" or who "endorsed or espoused terrorist activity." Arguably, people who express support for a terrorist group, like Hamas, could be subject to deportation based on the TRIG.

So if you are a non-citizen who wants to attend a protest, what should you do? First, make sure you have proof of your status in the U.S. or easy access to that proof (non-citizens, including lawful permanent residents, are actually required to carry proof of their status at all times). Second, have a plan and a friend or family member who can help you and has access to your immigration documents in case you are detained. Also, make sure you have phone numbers for these people. Third, when you are at a protest, be aware of the situation around you and if people are causing trouble or the police are making arrests, remember that the consequences if you as a non-citizen are detained may be much more severe than for a U.S. citizen engaged in the exact same activity. It may be wise to survey the area around you when you arrive at a protest, so you are aware of the various exit routes should you need to make a hasty departure.

What are your rights if you are detained? You have a right to remain silent and you do not have to answer questions. However, in some states, you may be required to identify yourself to law enforcement. As such, it does not hurt to familiarize yourself with your state and local law, so you are better prepared to advocate for yourself if need be. Also, it is worthwhile to review a "know your rights" information sheet. I recommend the one created by the ACLU.

Like everyone in the United States, non-citizens have a right to free speech. But when attending protests, you will have to weigh the possible risks against your desire to demonstrate. Knowing your rights and having a plan in advance are the best ways to keep safe while expressing your political opinion.

Finally, I should say that while I strongly oppose the idea of peaceful protesters being detained or deported, I generally do not support the pro-Palestinian protest movement. Most fundamentally, I feel that the movement's decision to choose sides in the conflict--Israel bad, Palestine good--is far too reductive and only encourages people to harden their existing positions. What I think is needed is radical empathy and openness towards "the Other." Both sides in the conflict have legitimate narratives and claims to the land, and those of us outside the war zone are better positioned to see and articulate that truth. Until we recognize the humanity of all people involved, and work to understand their stories, we will not be able to communicate effectively with each other, let alone make progress towards peace.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: