California Senate on Thursday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill that would bar the disclosure of the immigration status of alleged crime victims and witnesses in open court unless a judge rules the information is relevant to the case.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced the bill after the state’s top judge expressed concerns over reports of immigration agents following immigrants in California courthouses. The efforts were seen as part of President Trump’s call for increased enforcement by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The proposal is the latest in a series of measures aimed at protecting immigrants in the country illegally. The state previously has restricted the ability of local law enforcement and businesses to cooperate with federal immigration agents.
California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, a supporter of the new legislation, has said there are no data on how many or how often immigrants have been detained. But at courthouses, she said, federal immigration agents have reportedly picked up domestic violence victims, and at probation offices, they have demanded to see the daily list of people due to appear "to check all the foreign-sounding names."
The bill would prohibit a person’s immigration status from being revealed in open court unless a judge finds in a videotaped hearing that it is admissible evidence. The new law would protect witnesses, victims and defendants and apply in all criminal cases and most civil cases, except those involving personal injury or wrongful death.
“SB 785 is a bill that will allow immigrants to testify in court without fear that their immigration status will be used on the stand to harass them and really to dissuade immigrants from even coming to court to testify,” Wiener said before the bipartisan 31-6 vote to approve the bill.
The measure was opposed by the California News Publishers Assn., which found the measure interfered with the public’s right to monitor the courts and the judicial system. The publishers said a videotaped hearing banned people from attending meetings that would occur in private chambers. Jim Ewert, CNPA general counsel, said the proposed law “chips away at the integrity of the system.” “The courts are presumptively open and that has been a constitutional and historical standard for centuries in this country,” he said.
As an urgency measure, the bill was previously approved by a two-thirds vote of the state Assembly, and would take effect immediately if and when Brown signs it. The proposed law is co-written by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego) and supported by San Francisco Dist. Atty. George Gascòn and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights.