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California Passes Bill to Limit Disclosure of Immigrant Status in Court


As part of their continued pushback against the federal government’s tough stance on undocumented immigration, California lawmakers have approved Senate Bill 785, placing strict limits on how and when a person’s immigration status can be revealed in court.

The bill is just one of the handful of measures the so-called sanctuary state is using to resist the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. Although nothing is official until it gets Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, the legislation is nevertheless a welcome relief for the thousands of undocumented immigrants in California.

Response to Courtroom Arrests

Senate Bill 785 was introduced to combat U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) alleged practice of tracking down, arresting, and eventually, deporting undocumented immigrants in courthouses around the country, where they are being processed for offenses completely unrelated to their immigrant status. Immigration rights advocates have criticized the practice, saying that it discourages immigrants from testifying in court, reporting crimes in their neighborhoods, or simply showing up to pay a traffic ticket.

Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced SB-785 last year, passing the Senate on May 7 with a bipartisan vote of 31-6. According to one of the bill’s co-authors, Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), SB-785’s aim is to protect public safety. She argues that California’s criminal-justice system can’t function if victims or witnesses avoid testifying in fear of their immigration status being revealed and facing deportation as a result.

In an editorial for the Saceramento Bee, reiterated this point, writing, “Courts need to be safe zones, but with rhetoric coming out of Washington, D.C. that demonizes immigrants and threatens mass deportations, entering a courtroom is more daunting than ever. Public safety is suffering as a result.”

SB-785 has received strong support from both sides of the aisle, with half of the Republicans in the state Senate voting in favor of the bill—not surprising given that California has traditionally been a pro-immigration state. Still, the bill has its critics, one of them being the California News Publishers Association, which argues that, in the interest of transparency, court proceedings should remain open to the public, and the bill seeks to make parts private.

When reached for a statement, an ICE spokesman said the agency does not comment on pending legislation.

Contrasting with SB4

The bill is in sharp contrast to Texas’s SB4, an anti-sanctuary city law that allows local law enforcement officers, including sheriffs and campus police, to inquire on the immigration status of any individual in their custody. Furthermore, the law requires local law enforcement to comply with detainer requests from immigration agencies, detaining undocumented immigrants with no criminal charges until they can be processed for deportation.

The American Civil Liberties Union is challenging the law.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of questionable detention because of your immigration status, talk to the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm. Contact our offices to speak with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.

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