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Attending or Participating in Protests/Demonstrations

Please Note:

ISSS has compiled the following information about free speech and the rights of non-citizens who attend protests in the United States. 

In addition to considering the possible immigration-related implications, international students and scholars are encouraged to consider how their actions could be interpreted in their home country and what, if any, consequences may result if they return home. Each country has its own laws and expectations regarding what is acceptable speech both at protests and when posting on social media and online.

ISSS cannot provide specific advice about what may or may not be deemed acceptable speech.

International students and scholars can 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. More information regarding free speech and protest rights can be found here.
  • 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. If you are interested to learn more about this topic, information can be found here.

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)

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