Skip to main content
International Students

International Student Guide: Encounters with Law Enforcement

By January 9, 2018April 6th, 2022No Comments

As more International students are coming to the US, students and their parents are very interested in news about the police – particularly, negative news about them: an international student in OSU was pepper sprayed in library due to language barrier; innocent people were shot and killed by police; my friends were also in such situations where some police officers randomly asked to do a search on them during a pull over…As an international student myself, I totally feel the concerns shared among my peers – trying to fit into the new environment while staying away from trouble. Now, let’s learn some useful tips to better communicate with law enforcement.

Well, don’t be scared by these stories, because you still have your fundamental rights in front of the police. Tell the officers if there is a language barrier, and let them speak slowly, or just ask for a translator. Always be polite, and never make sudden moves to make police officers feel a sense of threat.

International students must be aware that US laws are protecting us from police violence. For instance, here are your best friends: your Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. According to the Fourth Amendment, in most cases, police have no rights to do search or seizure on you without a warrant, sufficient evidence that you have committed a crime, or your consent. In Fifth Amendment, you’re not required to answer questions during an interrogation. To evoke your Fifth Amendment rights, recite this loud and clear: I will remain silent, and I want to contact an attorney.

In addition, you should expect to see campus police as well. They mainly deal with violation of law and school policy. Campus police may have authorities similar to local police, but it varies among schools and states. Sometimes they are allowed to conduct no-notice searches in your dorm. So, be aware of the rules on your campus.

You may refuse to talk with a police officer, but you definitely don’t want to use the same strategies with law enforcement at the airport. Different from police officers, customs and border patrols have the rights to do search and interrogation with anyone. If you’re having a bad day, these inspections can take hours. International students are frequently traveling through airports and border checkpoints. Unfortunately, some are denied entry to the US for a variety of reasons. To prevent this, firstly, you should be certain that you didn’t do something wrong – your documents are good, no criminal records, no contrabands, no unreported employments. Failing to provide documents will lead to denial of entry, so double check that you have all your documents in your hands (not in your checked bags): valid passport and visa, I-20, travel signature, and anything required to be presented to the officer. Next, avoid arguing with border patrols – they just wanted to ensure the safety of all of us in this country, so don’t provoke unnecessary attention. So, next time when you travel, get yourself ready, be patient and cooperative.

Know your rights to better protect yourself. It’s always helpful to keep these knowledge in mind. But remember, when you’re involved with any legal issue, contacting an attorney is the best solution.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

More posts by Shan Wu
Skip to content