Cal­i­for­nia Senate bill ad­dresses ICE tac­tics

Threat of be­ing ex­posed as un­doc­u­mented is hav­ing a chill­ing ef­fect

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Ta­tiana Sanchez andKatyMur­phy Staff writ­ers

SACRA­MENTO » Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers on Thurs­day gave fi­nal ap­proval to a bill that would place strict lim­its on the dis­clo­sure of a per­son’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus in open court, con­tin­u­ing the sanc­tu­ary state’s re­bel­lion against the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion crack­down.

Senate Bill 785 was in­tro­duced in re­sponse to news re­ports of ICE agents track­ing down un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in court­houses across the coun­try. It takes aim at a tac­tic that ad­vo­cates say is keep­ing many im­mi­grants from tes­ti­fy­ing in court, re­port­ing crimes or sim­ply show­ing up

to pay a ticket.

“This is about pro­tect­ing pub­lic safety,” As­sem­bly­woman Gon­za­lez Fletcher, D-San Diego, one of the bill’s au­thors, said in a state­ment Thurs­day. “Our crim­i­naljus­tice sys­tem can’t func­tion if wit­nesses or vic­tims are afraid to tes­tify out of fear of be­ing de­ported. You should be able to tes­tify against a mur­derer or rapist with­out fear­ing that you or your loved ones will be thrown out of the coun­try as a re­sult.”

A spokesman with U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment said the agency doesn’t com­ment on pend­ing leg­is­la­tion.

The bill, in­tro­duced last year by Sen. Scot­tWiener, D-San Francisco, passed the Senate Thurs­day with a bi par­ti­san vote of 31-6. Six of the 13 Senate Repub­li­cans voted for the pro­posal and one did not vote.

If signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, it will take ef­fect im­me­di­ately.

“Courts need to be safe zones, but with rhetoric com­ing out of Wash­ing­ton, D.C., that de­mo­nizes im­mi­grants and threat­ens mass de­por­ta­tions, en­ter­ing a court­room is more daunt­ing than ever. Pub­lic safety is suf­fer­ing as a re­sult,” wroteWiener in an ed­i­to­rial for the Sacra­mento Bee Mon­day with San Francisco District At­tor­ney Ge­orge Gascón, who spon­sored the mea­sure.

Wiener’s of­fice said some at­tor­neys are re­veal­ing the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of vic­tims or wit­nesses who come for­ward to par­tic­i­pate in court cases, even when it’s not rel­e­vant, cre­at­ing a “chill­ing ef­fect” that can pre­vent oth­ers from com­ing for­ward.

In one case, a San Francisco mother who tes­ti­fied in court against her daugh­ter’s al­leged abuser was ques­tioned about her im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus and whether she’d been mo­ti­vated to tes­tify against the de­fen­dant in or­der to se­cure a spe­cial type of visa granted to peo­ple who co­op­er­ate with law en­force­ment, ac­cord­ing to Wiener and Gascón. A judge ruled the woman’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus was ir­rel­e­vant to the case and couldn’t be con­sid­ered by the jury, but the jury was un­able to reach a ver­dict. When pros­e­cu­tors tried to retry the case, the vic­tim’s mother de­clined to tes­tify a sec­ond time, in part be­cause of the fact that her im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus had been dis­cussed, they said.

In a 2017 let­ter toU.S. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and thenDepart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity Sec­re­tary John Kelly, Cal­i­for­nia Chief Jus­tice Tani G. Can­tilSakauye ex­pressed concern over re­ports that ICE agents are “stalk­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants in our court­houses to make ar­rests” and asked im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials to keep en­force­ment tac­tics out of state courts.

“Our courts are the main point of con­tact formil­lions of the most vul­ner­a­ble Cal­i­for­ni­ans in times of anx­i­ety, stress and crises in their lives,” she said.

“En­force­ment poli­cies that in­clude stalk­ing court­houses and ar­rest­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants, the vast­ma­jor­ity of whom pose no risk to pub­lic safety, are nei­ther safe nor fair.”

Though they’d also be pro­tected un­der the leg­is­la­tion, crim­i­nal de­fen­dants likely wouldn’t be af­fected, since a per­son’s im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus isn’t typ­i­cally a fac­tor in crim­i­nal cases. “It’s usu­ally ex­cluded from tes­ti­mony,” said San Jose State po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Gar­rick Per­ci­val of a per­son’s le­gal sta­tus.

Im­mi­gra­tion cases are han­dled separately, in fed­eral court.

Im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment has been a corner­stone of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. Since he launched his cam­paign for pres­i­dent, Trump has in­voked the killing of Kate Steinle by an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant with mul­ti­ple crim­i­nal con­vic­tions and prior de­por­ta­tions as an ex­am­ple of a bro­ken im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem. A San Francisco jury found Jose Inez Gar­cia Zarate not guilty in a mur­der trial af­ter his de­fense at­tor­ney showed the shoot­ing was ac­ci­den­tal. How­ever, Trump and Ses­sions have used the Steinle case to jus­tify on­go­ing ICE crack­downs that have many il­le­gal im­mi­grants liv­ing in fear.

The only group on record op­pos­ing the bill was the Cal­i­for­nia News Pub­lish­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which ar­gued it would hurt the pub­lic’s in­ter­est by mak­ing some pro­ceed­ings se­cret, hin­der­ing re­port­ing.

“By au­to­mat­i­cally mov­ing all dis­cus­sions of the im­mi­gra­tion sta­tus of par­ties and wit­nesses to a judges’ cham­bers,” the as­so­ci­a­tion wrote in its let­ter of op­po­si­tion, “SB 785 es­tab­lishes a per se ban on the pub­lic’s right to at- tend this as­pect of crim­i­nal and civil pro­ceed­ings which the Supreme Court found to be un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

A di­rec­tive fromU.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment re­leased in Jan­uary al­lows im­mi­gra­tion agents to en­ter court­houses to ar­rest tar­geted con­victed criminals but bars them from de­tain­ing any­one else who may be un­doc­u­mented. Can­til-Sakauye said the pol­icy is a step in the right di­rec­tion, while some ad­vo­cates said it still al­lows ICE to step into court­houses, pos­si­bly dis­suad­ing un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants from show­ing up at all.

Per­ci­val said the de­bate brings up the is­sue of sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers and “whether ICE agents com­ing into courts is an in­fringe­ment on the ju­di­cial sys­tem’s abil­ity to do its work.”

“This is a con­tin­u­a­tion of a real fight about the balance of power be­tween the fed­eral and state govern­ment,” he said. “Not only that, but also be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and ju­di­cial branches. There’s a lot still left to un­fold.”

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