Senator Wiener’s Legislation to Continue Protecting Undocumented Immigrants in Court Signed by Governor Newsom
SACRAMENTO - Today, Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s Senate Bill 836 into law. It becomes law immediately. SB 836 re-enacts 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 is only 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.
“Undocumented immigrants can breathe easier if they are summoned to court as witnesses,” said Senator Wiener. “Starting immediately, immigration status will be protected when it’s not relevant to a case. For our justice system to work, we can’t let attorneys or anyone else intimidate undocumented people. SB 836 is critical to addressing this issue. Thank you, Governor Newsom, for once again standing with immigrants.”