Foreign Nationals: What Law Enforcement Needs to Know

Henry McGowen photo


Henry McGowen
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center – DHS
Attorney-Advisor (Instructor)



This topic will inform campus officials, in particular campus law enforcement officers, what they need to know regarding the legal obligations and procedures required when detaining or arresting foreign nationals in the U.S., including on college campuses. America’s colleges and universities enjoy students from across the globe. Some of these students however, either knowingly or unwittingly, violate our laws while they are here. Campus police are many times the first law enforcement officers to make contact with these students and investigate their actions. Criminal activity on our campuses may be perpetrated by non-students as well and these same rules apply.

Federal law and international treaties to which the United States has bound itself require law enforcement officers to follow specific requirements whenever they detain, arrest or imprison citizens of other nations, i.e. foreign nationals. This course explores the legal basis of the requirements that law enforcement must follow when investigating suspected criminal action by a foreign national. There are also related requirements law enforcement needs to follow when interacting with foreign national victims of crime, and/or those which have suffered an accident resulting in death or serious injury. Campus police are sometimes the lead agency in dealing with these situations.

These requirements also apply to foreign nationals with diplomatic immunity. While most college students are not in diplomatic roles directly, some are children of diplomats, and may fall under these requirements. There are important distinctions to be aware of when dealing with foreign national suspects who have some level of diplomatic immunity and those who do not.


  • The legal requirements for dealing with foreign national suspects of crime.
  • The legal requirements for handling foreign national suspects who have diplomatic immunity.
  • The legal notification requirements for handling foreign national minors or adults who have been involved in accidents resulting in serious injury or death.

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