Law Protects Immigrants From Questions About Legal Status in Court

By William Vogeler, Esq. on May 22, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In the national battle over immigrant rights, the latest conflict in California was over faster than the war for the territory in 1847.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that protects immigrants from having to disclose their legal status in court. The bill had been making its way to the governor's desk since last year, when federal agents were reportedly tracking people down in state courthouses.

With the new law, California has practically become a sanctuary state. The state, counties, and cities from Los Angeles to San Francisco have fought against Trump administration policies to deport undocumented immigrants through legislation and lawsuits.

Border War

It almost feels like a pendulum shift, given that Alta California used to belong to Mexico. The United States took the territory in January 1847 during the Mexican-American War.

California still has the largest Spanish-speaking population in the country, despite President Trump's efforts to keep immigrants from crossing the border. Gov. Brown resisted the president's April order to send the national guard to patrol the border.

It was a controversial move, but the bill to protect immigrants in court had bipartisan support in the legislature and help from the California Supreme Court. Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote to federal authorities to keep Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents out of 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."

Urgency Measure

The state legislature passed SB785 as an urgency measure, meaning it takes effect immediately.

According to reports, Attorney General Jeff Sessions had federal agents picking up people outside courts because local police were not doing it under sanctuary laws. Attorneys were also taking advantage of the situation inside courtrooms.

"The last thing we need is for attorneys to harass immigrants on the stand by asking irrelevant questions about their immigration status," Sen. Scott Wiener told the San Francisco Chronicle. "Immigrants are already on edge, given everything happening in this country."

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