Sometimes, when the police issue a traffic violation they report certain people to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, better known as ICE or Immigration. ICE may investigate your immigration status. But they may also choose not to investigate you if they think your case is a low priority.
ICE will be less likely to investigate your immigration status if you are convicted for a minor traffic violation rather than a major traffic violation. If you are convicted of a minor traffic violation, ICE is not likely to investigate your immigration status if you have no prior criminal convictions and do not fall within another high priority category.
Types of traffic violations
Minor traffic violations: offenses that are considered minor traffic violations in Illinois may include:
- Driving without a license
- Seat belt violations
- Invalid vehicle registration
- Changing lanes without signaling
- Defective windshield
- Failure to reduce speed
- Failure to obey a stop sign
- Improper turn signal
- Improper passing
Major traffic violations: offenses that are considered major traffic violations include:
- Driving under the influence
- Hit and run
- Reckless driving resulting in injury to persons
- Violations that have the potential of causing serious injury or harm to the public
Low or high priority cases for immigration
Low priority: Immigration may consider your case to be low priority and will be less likely to investigate your immigration status if you:
- Are a veteran or a member of the U.S. armed forces
- Are a long-time lawful permanent resident
- Are a minor or elderly person
- Have been present in the U.S. since childhood
- Are pregnant or nursing
- Are a victim of domestic violence, trafficking, or other serious crimes
- Suffer from a serious mental or physical disability
- Have a serious health condition
- Graduated from a U.S. high school
- Have pursued or are pursuing higher education in the U.S.
- Have ties and make contributions to the community
- Are the primary caretaker of a minor, a seriously ill relative, or a person with a mental or physical disability
High priority: Immigration may consider your case to be high priority and will be more likely to investigate your immigration status if you:
- Have been convicted of crimes including violent offenses, felonies, or major traffic violations
- Have a lengthy criminal record or repeated criminal convictions
- Are a known gang member
- Pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety
- Recently entered the U.S. illegally
- Are a repeat violator of immigration laws including repeated illegal entry and immigration fraud
- Are a fugitive from immigration court
Police questions and traffic stops
Being stopped and questioned by police can be very stressful. Here are some important things to remember:
- Stay calm. Don’t run. Don’t argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or the police are violating your rights.
- Always keep your hands where the police officer can see them.
- Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If the officer says no, then you are under arrest and you have a right to know why.
- You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you do not want to answer questions, tell the officer out loud. If you do talk to the officer, do not lie. Lying is often a crime.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they reasonably suspect that you possess a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent to any further search.
Getting arrested during a traffic stop
Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair. Say that you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Don’t give any explanations or excuses.
If you cannot pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one unless the crime you are charged with can only be punished by a fine. Don’t say anything, sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer.
You should ask your lawyer about the effect of a criminal conviction on your immigration status. Don’t discuss your immigration status with anyone but your lawyer. If an immigration agent visits you in jail, do not answer questions or sign anything before talking to a lawyer.
What you say to anyone other than your attorney can and will be used to file criminal charges against you or be used against you in any criminal case. This includes statements made to police, other law enforcement officers, and other individuals including prosecutors.
If you were arrested for a fine-only offense or for a misdemeanor, you usually will be eligible for prompt release from the police station lock-up after you agree to an individual recognizance bond (often called an I-bond). No more than 48 hours after your arrest, regardless of the charges, you have the right to appear before a neutral judge.
Getting detained by ICE for a minor traffic violation
If you are arrested for a minor traffic violation and do not fall within another high priority category, ICE may detain you only after you have been convicted and may consider your case to be low priority and will be less likely to detain you.
If ICE detains you, you cannot be held for more than 48 hours. If ICE does not take any action after 48 hours, your detention ends automatically and law enforcement is required to release you.