How California Could Protect Immigrant Witnesses and Victims From Federal Agents

By: Wallin & Klarich

California is gearing up for an immigration showdown with Washington.

A new bill, which recently passed through the State Assembly, seeks to provide a safe harbor for immigrants who are going to California courts. Under President Trump’s aggressive immigration policies, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents have detained undocumented immigrants for possible deportation at courthouses despite the fact that they were going to court as victims or witnesses to a crime.

If the bill passes, law enforcement officers would be prohibited from detaining victims and witnesses for immigration violations.

Why the Federal Government Targets Immigrants at Courthouses

In March, California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly asking their departments to cease the “stalking [of] undocumented immigrants in our courthouses to make arrests.”1

The federal government’s response was to blame cities and counties like Los Angeles and San Francisco because of ordinances that prohibit ICE agents from entering jails and prisons to arrest undocumented immigrants. They argued that courthouse arrests are safer for the public, the officers, and the immigrant who is detained because of the security screening that persons must go through before they enter a courthouse.

Protection of Immigrants Is Necessary to Prevent Crime

While this is undoubtedly true that a courthouse is a safer location than a public street for an arrest, the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security appear to be ignoring the danger to another important part of our society: the justice system itself.

The Trump administration’s stance on immigration has left many immigrants afraid to go to court for fear that they will be arrested and deported. As a result, crimes committed against undocumented immigrant victims go unreported, and cases where key witnesses fear deportation are severely hindered because a witness may simply not show up to testify.

Los Angeles has reported a 25% drop in reporting of crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence in immigrant communities.2 Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who introduced the bill, states the proposed law would “promote social responsibility” by encouraging “open collaboration of all individuals with law enforcement, an important component to our state’s public safety.”

California already protects one group of witnesses and victims from immigration consequences as a result of their interaction with the courts and law enforcement. Officers are prohibited from detaining witnesses to a hate crime on immigration charges, and from notifying federal immigration authorities of the immigration status of a hate crime witness. Extending these protections would protect even more individuals.

Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Wallin & Klarich Today

While California lawmakers are making strides toward making courts a safe haven, the bill is not yet law. In the meantime, ICE agents could be waiting for you if you have to go to court. That is why it is important to speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney before you go to court.

At Wallin & Klarich, our attorneys have over 35 years of experience successfully fighting for the rights of those accused of crimes. We work tirelessly to give our clients the best possible chance at successfully remaining in the United States.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Los Angeles, San Diego, West Covina, Torrance and Victorville, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense attorney available to help you no matter where you are located.

Contact our offices today at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (877) 466-5245 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

1. CNN Wire, “ICE Agents Will Continue to Make Arrests at Courthouses, Trump Administration Says,”, March 31, 2017, available at↩

2. Id.↩

Posted In: Immigrant Witnesses
Tagged: Immigration consequences & charges