California Case Law - The FindLaw California Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal Opinion Summaries Blog

California Bill to Protect Immigrants From ICE in Court

California lawmakers have passed a bill to protect immigrants from questions about their legal status in court.

If signed by the governor, it will become the first of its kind in the nation. Gov. Jerry Brown, who has already made strident efforts to protect immigrants, is expected to sign the proposed law and make it effective immediately.

The latest bill is another line in the sand between President Trump and states that have offered sanctuary to undocumented immigrants. In the Golden State, the real border wall is starting to look like an impasse between the White House and the State Capitol.

Fear of Court

Senate Bill 785 came about after reports that immigration agents have been tracking down undocumented immigrants in courthouses around the country. The federal initiative kept many immigrants from testifying, reporting crimes or showing up in court.

"Our criminal-justice system can't function if witnesses or victims are afraid to testify out of fear of being deported," said Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher. "You should be able to testify against a murderer or rapist without fearing that you or your loved ones will be thrown out of the country as a result."

In one case, a San Francisco woman testified against her daughter's alleged abuser. The defense attorney asked about her immigration status, but the judge instructed the jury that it was irrelevant.

When prosecutors went to retry the case, according to reports, the woman wouldn't testify because she was afraid of being deported.

Court Precedent

In 2017, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote to federal authorities that Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents were "stalking undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests." She asked them to keep enforcement out of the 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 wrote. "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."

The Senate bill, introduced last year, passed on a bipartisan vote of 31-6.

Related Resources: