New California Law Protects Undocumented Immigrants In Court

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill preventing a person’s immigration status from being discussed in open court, unless a separate hearing is held to allow it.

On Thursday, California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill meant to protect undocumented immigrants testifying in court from the threat of possible deportation.

The law ― which went into effect immediately after Brown’s signing ― prevents a person’s immigration status from being disclosed in open court. The only exception would be if lawyers requested a private hearing and a judge then determined the information was admissible.

The legislation, introduced by state Sen. Scott Wiener (D), is meant to enable undocumented immigrants to participate in trials without fear of possible repercussions such as deportation if their immigration status is revealed.

“Our courthouses should be places of justice, not places where immigrants are threatened with deportation,” Wiener said in a statement. “This law makes everyone in our community safer by ensuring that witnesses and victims of crime are not afraid to report crimes, go to court, and hold criminals accountable.”

Advocates in New York City demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be barred from arresting people in courthouse
Advocates in New York City demand that Immigration and Customs Enforcement be barred from arresting people in courthouses, except when authorized by a judicial warrant, on May 9, 2018.

The Trump administration sued California over its sanctuary policies, which limit local cooperation with federal deportation efforts, roughly two months ago.

President Donald Trump has made it a priority to crack down on unauthorized immigration. Under the Trump administration’s policies, all undocumented people ― not just those with criminal histories ― have become targets for deportation.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests increased by 40 percent during Trump’s first eight months in office compared to the same period the previous year. And the agency has increasingly been arresting undocumented immigrants who don’t have criminal convictions.

Last year, after reports of immigration agents targeting courtrooms to make arrests, the California Supreme Court’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, requested that ICE stop “stalking” immigrants at the state’s courthouses. She noted that while ICE’s actions are technically legal, they instilled fear in immigrant communities and reduced trust in the legal and court systems.

Trump administration officials responded that they would not let up.

“This was always about public safety, not immigration,” San Francisco District Attorney George Gascón said in a statement about the new bill. “The bipartisan support this bill received is a testament to the fact that community safety benefits when immigrants can come forward without fear of consequences.”



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