Senator Wiener Introduces SB 836 to Continue Protecting Undocumented Immigrants in Court

January 7, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has introduced Senate Bill 836. This legislation will extend the safeguards from SB 785 (Wiener, 2018), which protected a person’s immigration status in a public court record, unless the presiding judge determined that immigration status was relevant information. This legislation had a sunset date of January 1, 2022, so it has now expired. SB 836 will remove this sunset date, so immigration status will be permanently protected in cases where it is not relevant to the litigation.

Under SB 836, immigration status would only be admissible evidence when the presiding judge determines it to be so in a private, in camera hearing. Thus, an attorney will not be permitted to ask a witness about their immigration status unless the judge first determines that the issue is relevant to the case.

Before SB 785 became law, in numerous documented cases, defense attorneys exposed the immigration status of witnesses and victims of crime by asking about immigration status even though such status did not pertain to the case. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have also reportedly monitored and detained undocumented people at courthouses. The critically important protections offered in SB 785 must be extended so that undocumented immigrants – including victims of crime – feel safe coming forward and testifying in California’s courts.

“Our justice system will only work when people can come forward to testify without fearing retribution,” said Senator Wiener. “When a person’s immigration status is irrelevant, exposing it is wrong, and it harms the integrity of our courts. No one should have to fear deportation when coming forward about a crime they’ve experienced or witnessed. SB 836 will ensure that undocumented immigrants continue to have protection in our courts from unnecessary exposure of their immigration status.”

“SB 836 is necessary to ensure access to justice for all Californians, regardless of their immigration status,” said Marisa Díaz, Senior Staff Attorney with Legal Aid at Work. “By preventing unnecessary disclosures of a person’s immigration status in open court, SB 836 enables residents to exercise their rights without fearing their immigration status will be weaponized against them as a tool of intimidation. This benefits all Californians and our justice system at large.”

“The law must provide safeguards to protect everyone in the legal system, regardless of immigration status,” said San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. “SB 836 will promote public safety by encouraging victims and witnesses to come forward without fear of their immigration status being used against them. I am thankful to Senator Wiener for championing this important protection for our immigrant community.”

"Immigrants in California should never have to feel intimidated or hesitant to seek justice for themselves or their families,” said Rita Medina, CHIRLA Deputy Director, State Policy and Advocacy. “Whether it is 2017 or 2022, protecting a person's immigration status from being exposed in open court is still incredibly important, necessary and should become a permanent part of our legal system. We appreciate Senator Wiener's leadership in ensuring this current protection is not lost."

“We applaud Senator Wiener for introducing this important measure that will extend protections for immigrants in California trying to access our legal system,” said Mariko Yoshihara, Policy Director for the California Employment Lawyers Association (“CELA”). “This bill will ensure that a person’s immigration status is kept private in public court records and not used to intimidate or threaten individuals who are trying to enforce their rights or otherwise participate in open court proceedings.”

“No matter where you are from, you have the right to give evidence on the witness stand in a valiant attempt to hold people accountable without fears of being targeted and arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said. “Senate Bill 836 advances public safety and ensures that after a crime is reported immigrants can safely come forward to tell their stories. This makes our communities safer and promotes equality and fairness within our system of justice.”