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Legislation would protect immigration status of witnesses in court cases

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District Attorney George Gascon speaks at a press conference in San Francisco with State Sen. Scott Weiner and immigration and domestic violence advocates calling for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign Senate Bill 785. The legislation would protect immigrants from irrelevant disclosures of their immigration status. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Legislation that would protect immigrants testifying in a criminal case from having their immigration status revealed in open court has been approved by the state legislature and is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature.

Supporters of Senate Bill 785, which was co-authored by San Francisco’s state Sen. Scott Wiener and Assemblyman David Chiu, say the legislation will increase public safety by encouraging immigrants to report crimes, cooperate with investigators and testify as witnesses or victims in court. It requires that any discussion or questioning about the immigration status of a witness, victim or defendant in court must first be found relevant and admissible by a judge.

“Our courts should be a place where justice is served for all, regardless of immigration status,” Wiener said Friday in a statement. “This bill will help victims of crime and witnesses to crime come forward and testify about what they have seen, not remain fearful to do so on the chance that their immigration status, which has nothing to do with the crime, will be made public.”

The legislation was co-sponsored by San Francisco District Attorney George Gascon and the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights as well as other immigrant and domestic violence advocacy groups. Gascon said publicly disclosing immigration status of victims and witnesses of crime “boils down to an intimidation tactic that dissuades undocumented immigrants from testifying, pure and simple.”

“In an era where the rhetoric out of Washington is increasingly anti-immigrant, the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for this bill gives me hope,” Gascon said in a statement. “It speaks to a growing consensus that community safety is threatened when any group of people is too fearful to come forward and participate in our system of justice.”

The legislation was approved Thursday by the state Senate 31-6 with bipartisan support, and previously passed the Assembly 67-1. It will take effect immediately after Brown signs it.

State Sen. Scott Weiner speaks at a press conference with District Attorney George Gascon and advocates in support of Senate Bill 785, which would protect immigrants from irrelevant disclosures of their immigration status. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

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