International Center The Laws of the United States
THE LAWS OF THE UNITED STATES
The laws of the United States seek a balance between personal freedom and the requirements of an orderly society. They are based on English common law and have grown over a long period of time into a very complex system involving the United States Constitution, federal laws, laws of the 50 states, local ordinances, court decisions and various regulations. It is impossible to describe the whole of US law, but certain basic principles of special interest to foreign students are discussed briefly below.
THE RULE OF LAW: The “rule of law” means that Americans are governed by laws, not by individuals. In other words, one could say that the law is king in the US. The people can change the law only through proper and usually lengthy procedures. Once the law is established, it is the law for everyone, including government officials from the President all the way down.
The United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land. All other laws must be consistent with the Constitution. New laws that are not consistent with the Constitution can be challenged in court and declared “unconstitutional.” In this way, law, ordinances and regulations are constantly tested to be sure they conform to the principles set forth in the Constitution.
DUE PROCESS OF LAW AND EQUAL PROTECTION UNDER THE LAW: The 5th and 14th amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee “due process of law” to all persons, including foreign students and other aliens in the US. Due process of law requires that orderly legal procedures be followed to establish guilt before a person can be put in jail or otherwise punished. In the United States, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. The 14th amendment to the US Constitution guarantees to every person, aliens included, “equal protection under the law.” Equal protection under the law means that the law applies to everyone equally, regardless of age, sex, race or wealth, and that no law may discriminate between persons or classes of persons. There are, however, laws that apply only to certain classes of people, such as aliens. As long as there is a reasonable basis for these laws, they satisfy the requirement of fairness and justice. These laws may limit and modify basic rights. Except for these special alien laws, foreign students are subject to the same laws as are American citizens. They are also guaranteed the same protection under the laws and the same civil rights as are American citizens.
EFFECT OF LAW ON IMMIGRATION STATUS:
1. Violation of the law – any violation of the law can affect a foreign student’s immigration status. Offenses such as petty theft, drunkenness and disturbing the peace ordinarily will not directly affect the student’s status, but these offenses are kept on record and are occasionally reviewed by the US Immigration authorities. Although a single offense usually is excused, if a student has committed several minor violations, he or she may be subject to deportation. For a more serious criminal violation, there is always the possibility of deportation. Violations of the drug laws and moral offenses are considered especially serious.
2. Dismissal from the College – Foreign students who violate the rules of the
college and are suspended or dismissed are no longer students. Since being
a full-time student was one of the conditions of original entry, loss of
student status results in a violation of immigration status as well.
3. Revocation of Passport – Foreign students also must consider the attitude of their home government toward their conduct while in this country. A government can cancel one’s passport, making it impossible to continue to stay in the USA. It is also important to know that once individuals have been deported from the US, they need special permission from the US Attorney General before they are permitted to re-enter.
WHAT TO DO IN CASE OF TROUBLE WITH THE LAW: Even though you believe that you understand the law or that you are innocent of any violation of the law, if you get in trouble you should always seek legal advice. The law is so complex that the ordinary person often does not understand the legal issues, and he might make matters worse for himself if he talks too much or doesn’t know what to do. Contact the Office of International Studies. If help is beyond the scope of the Office, you will be referred to the appropriate persons who can help. Remember that the full details of the situation must be presented objectively in order for anyone to be able to help you.
IF YOU ARE ARRESTED: If you are arrested by the police, you should be aware of your rights. First, you are not required to answer questions except to identify yourself and give your address. It is best to cooperate with law enforcement officials, but you must protect your rights, too.
1. You have the right to know the charges against you (what you are accused of).
2. You have the right to remain silent until you are questioned in the presence of your attorney.
3. You have the right to an attorney. If you don’t have one, the court will provide one for you.
4. You have a right to a hearing in a court the day following your arrest (except Saturdays and Sundays). Remember that anything you say at the hearing may be used against you in court.
5. You are allowed two telephone calls. Call a friend or an attorney.
Do not resist arrest, since you may be charged with resisting arrest even if other charges are dropped. Do not physically resist a search of your person or home, but if you do not agree to a search, say so. If the police say that they have search warrant (which is issued by a judge and gives the police the right to search your home), ask to see it.
If questioned about your case by a police officer, answer only, “I wish to see my attorney.” The questions may sound unimportant, but you should not answer them unless you have consulted an attorney.