U.S. Laws and Your Rights

It’s important to understand the laws based on where you live and study. Here, you'll find information about what you can and can't do, and how to stay safe. Some of the words might be new, but don't worry – if you're not sure about something, ask ISS or other campus offices for help understanding.

Protests and Your Rights

As someone visiting the United States from another country, you have rights to keep you safe. But there are also things you need to be careful about when you join protests or demonstrations.

Potential Impact on Your Immigration Status

If you get arrested, charged, and found guilty while participating in a protest, it could affect your ability to stay in the country or apply for visas later on. For example, if the police tell everyone to leave, and you don't go quickly enough, you could end up getting arrested. Being found guilty means you broke a state or federal law. Your immigration status may depend on avoiding legal trouble by following all laws.

If you are arrested, it will be very important to consult with a criminal attorney to advise and support you during any court proceedings. While a court will assign an individual an attorney if they cannot afford one, not all attorneys are familiar with the impact on immigration status of an arrest or acceptance of certain plea decisions.

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.

Complying with University rules and codes of conduct are a part of maintaining status.

Did you know that UB has its own policy for protests? At UB, you have the right to protest and gather together, but you must always follow the rules from the university and law enforcement.

Protest and free speech rights in the United States are outlined by the U.S. Constitution. The U.S. Constitution's First Amendment protects people's rights to gather for protests (freedom of assembly), speak out (freedom of speech), and ask the government for changes without reprisal (right to petition). 

These rights aren't only for U.S. citizens. They also protect visitors from other countries who join lawful public demonstrations and protests.  Know your rights as a noncitizen and learn how to respond to immigration questions if you are stopped by police or other government officials.

State Law vs. Federal Law

Federal laws apply to everyone in the United States.  State and local laws apply to people who live or work in a particular state, county, or town. As an international student you are expected to comply with all laws and regulations that apply to your situation, including federal laws. Failure to do so can result in a violation of status.

While New York and many U.S. states have recently changed laws related to marijuana, it is still considered a controlled substance by the federal government. International students who possess or use cannabis products may be subject to severe consequences (for example, visa refusal or revocation).  In this case, where state and federal law conflict, international students are always subject to federal law.  It may also be helpful to review UB's policy on alcohol & drugs.

Additional Resources


The information contained in this web site is provided as a service to the international students, faculty, staff, employees and administrators of the University at Buffalo, and does not constitute legal advice on any immigration, tax or other matter. We try to provide useful information, but we make no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to this web site or any associated site. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided herein should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Neither the University at Buffalo nor the Office of International Student Services is responsible for any errors or omissions contained in this website, or for the results obtained from the use of this information.