Stop Intimidation of Immigrant in Our Courts

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By Senator Scott Wiener
Special to El Observador

The relentless slandering of immigrants coming from Donald Trump and his allies in Washington is having a disastrous impact on so many people in our communities. Children are afraid to go to school because they fear that their parents may be taken away while they are gone. Mothers and fathers are afraid go to work where a raid may take place that will rip them from their families. People who I never knew were undocumented are approaching me on the street and telling me they are afraid to be out in public.

And, we are seeing victims and witnesses who are afraid to go into court because attorneys are raising their immigration status in attempts to discredit them, even when that status has absolutely nothing to do with the case being tried. When this is combined with reports of immigration agents appearing in courthouses to identify, interrogate, and detain immigrants, this creates a chilling atmosphere that prevents people from coming forward to report crimes and serve as witnesses. These disclosures are dangerous and intimidating, and we shouldn’t be allowing them to happen.

To address this, I’ve introduced Senate Bill 785, which bars any disclosure of immigration status in open court, unless the judge first determines it is relevant to the subject of the litigation. To determine this admissibility, an attorney must make their case to a judge during a private session prior to making any reference to the witness’s immigration status in open court. The judge will then determine whether to allow the issue to be raised. If immigration status is relevant to the case, then the attorney can raise it. If it isn’t, then they cannot. 

We want immigrants who are victims of crimes and witnesses to crimes to feel safe in our courts. And these disclosures – and the threats of disclosure — don’t just impact undocumented immigrants by keeping them in the shadows. When immigrants fear coming forward to testify in court as victims and witnesses because their immigration status will be revealed, that hurts the ability of law enforcement to prosecute cases and hold criminals accountable. That, not fear-mongering against immigrants, is what makes everyone in our communities less safe.

People should not fear that stepping onto the witness stand could be a first step towards deportation. We need to focus on making people feel safe about participating in our justice system, not scaring people from coming forward. Immigration status, when unrelated to the facts of the case, should be left outside the courtroom doors. 

Senator Scott Wiener represents San Francisco and Northern San Mateo County in the California State Senate.