New California Bill to Prevent Disclosure of Immigration Status in Court

The Senate bill 785 aims at preventing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents from tracking down undocumented immigrants in courthouses.


California Governor Jerry Brown has signed a bill that places strict limits on disclosure of a person’s immigration status in an open court, Mercury News reported. The move comes even as Donald Trump called immigrants “animals” in a rant against California’s sanctuary policies, with some reports saying that the U.S. president was referring to a criminal gang.

The Senate bill 785, approved in the Senate with bipartisan support last week, was introduced after reports of U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents tracking down undocumented immigrants in courthouses in the country came to light.  The bill aims at striking down the ICE tactic that advocates say is keeping many immigrants from testifying in court, reporting crimes or showing up to pay a ticket.

“Our courthouses should be places of justice, not places where immigrants are threatened with deportation,” Senator Scott Wiener, one of the bill’s authors, said in a statement on May 17. “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.”

According to Senator Wiener’s office, lawyers have been revealing the immigration status of victims or witnesses who come forward to participate in court cases, even when it’s not relevant. This prevents them from coming forward in courts.

Chief Justice of California Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye had earlier expressed concern over reports that ICE agents are stalking undocumented immigrants in courthouses to make arrests, and asked immigration officials to keep enforcement tactics out of state courts. “Our courts are the main point of contact for millions of the most vulnerable Californians in times of anxiety, stress and crises in their lives,” she said last year in a letter written to U.S Attorney General Jeff Sessions and John Kelly, the former Secretary of Homeland Security.

“Enforcement policies that include stalking courthouses and arresting undocumented immigrants, the vast majority of whom pose no risk to public safety, are neither safe nor fair,” she said.

ICE had issued a directive in January that allowed immigration agents to enter courthouses to “discreetly” arrest targeted convicted criminals but barred them from detaining anyone else who may be undocumented. “Federal, state, and local law enforcement officials routinely engage in enforcement activity in courthouses throughout the country because many individuals appearing in courthouses for one matter are wanted for unrelated criminal or civil violations. ICE’s enforcement activities in these same courthouses are wholly consistent with longstanding law enforcement practices, nationwide,” the statement had said.

The ICE refused to comment on Senate bill 785 even as law goes into effect immediately, a day after Trump’s comments on immigrants that referred to them as “animals,” according to reports.

“We have people coming into the country, or trying to come in — we’re stopping a lot of them,” Trump said at a meeting with Southern California leaders who are in opposition on May 16. “You wouldn’t believe how bad these people are. These aren’t people, these are animals, and we’re taking them out of the country at a level and at a rate that’s never happened before.”

Right after Trump’s comments became public, Brown took to Twitter to say that the president is “lying on immigration, lying about crime and lying about the laws of California.”

The White House pointed out on May 17 that U.S. president was referring to MS-13 members who commit violent crimes.

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