As an immigrant, you may feel different from native born citizens. However, you have the same rights as any other American. This is important to internalize before you get pulled over by the police because, at some point, you likely may be pulled over.
First, your primary goal is to mitigate risk to yourself and anyone else in your car. This starts with you. Breathe and stay calm. Do not drive away or run. Pull over. Remember, the vast majority of police encounters are innocuous. Turn your cabin lights on, open your windows, keep your hands visible, do not turn around and turn off your vehicle.
The police officer reaches your window
Do not argue with the Tampa, Florida, police officer or obstruct what they are trying to do. Hand over your license, car insurance and registration when requested by the police officer. Confirm that the information is correct, unless it is not. Remember, do not lie to the police.
Any lies can be used against you, and the lie itself could be the basis of a separate criminal offense, depending on the circumstances, the state and whether the police officer is a state or federal agent.
What if I do not feel comfortable talking with the police officer?
No problem. As an American, you have the right to remain silent. After the initial interaction of handing over the information and confirming its validity, you do not have to interact with the Tampa, Florida, police officer. You do not have to answer questions about your immigration, including your citizenship status. If they ask if they can search you or the vehicle, you have the right to say, “no.”
What if I do not have my immigration papers?
That is okay. You should try to keep your papers on you, but if you do not have them, that is okay as well. You do not have to tell the police officer. You can remain silent. Or, if you want to consult your lawyer first, you can always say as much.
This is for police officers
Please note that this blog post is about interactions with Tampa, Florida, police officers, not immigration officials, and for normal everyday driving, not when entering or exiting the United States.
Those interactions have different rules. However, it is always best practice to keep your lawyer’s information memorized, just in case. And, before you exit the country, check in with your immigration lawyer to make sure you do not have any restrictions on travel.