Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Continue Protecting Undocumented Immigrants in Court, SB 836, Passes Senate

May 3, 2022

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 836 passed the Senate by a vote of 28-0. It will head to the Assembly for policy committee hearings. 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 had 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.

SB 836 is cosponsored by CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights), Legal Aid at Work, CELA (California Employment Lawyers Association), and the Los Angeles and San Francisco District Attorney’s Offices.

“Immigration status should never be used in California courts to silence a witness or victim,” said Senator Wiener. “We are a sanctuary state, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect undocumented immigrants. Everyone – no matter their immigration status – deserves to be treated fairly in our justice system, and SB 836 will help make that a reality.”