Attending or Participating in Protests or Demonstrations

International students and scholars may have questions about whether it is acceptable to participate in demonstrations and protests while they are in the United States.

Protest and free speech rights in the United States are outlined by the Constitution. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." (emphasis added)

Non-citizens have several factors to consider when deciding whether to participate in a protest. 

  • Before heading to a protest or demonstration, it is a good idea to learn about immigrants’ rights when interacting with law enforcement.
  • It is important to be aware that arrests, criminal charges, criminal proceedings, and convictions can impact your interactions with immigration officials, and if serious enough, your immigration status.
  • Activities should remain peaceful and not pose a threat to the physical well-being of participants, bystanders, or observers. See more information regarding free speech and protest rights.
  • If the activities appear to become threatening in nature, disruptive, and/or some form of violence appears to be starting, you should leave the area. This is to make sure you remain safe. 
  • If law enforcement officials are called, it is important to follow their instructions and leave the area as they direct. Generally, there is only a risk of being arrested or charged with a legal offense when people become disrespectful, ignore instructions from law enforcement personnel, and/or violence is imminent.  

It is also important that you continue to maintain your immigration status. International students need to remember that their purpose for being in the U.S. is to be a full-time student, and they should continue to attend all classes. Visiting faculty and researchers need to continue the activities for which they are in the U.S.–teaching and/or research. Complying with University rules and codes of conduct are a part of maintaining status.

Maintaining your studies and/or program activities is essential to ensuring that your immigration status is not at risk. To learn more about this topic, see information on civil disobedience at public universities.

If you have questions about what activities are allowed, please contact ISSS or Student Legal Services. We are here to help.

Adapted with permission from University of Alaska Fairbanks (1/9/20)

Last updated: December 7, 2023