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California Law Protecting Victims and Witnesses of Crimes

We have previously discussed the worrying presence of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers at courthouses for the purpose of identifying and arresting people who are in the country unlawfully. Earlier this year, the chief justice of the California Supreme Court wrote a letter to federal officials asking them to reconsider the tactic in light of the effect it was having on victims and witness who were too scared of deportation to help with criminal investigations.

Because of concerns such as these, and the issues surrounding sanctuary city status, California lawmakers passed a law that is aimed at protecting victims and witnesses. Under this law, that is currently awaiting the governor’s signature, police officers in California will not arrest a victim or a witness based solely on an actual or suspected immigration violation.

There is an exception under this new California law for the arrest of a victim or witness if there is a warrant for arrest presented to the police officers. A warrant will be honored even when it is issued by a federal court as part of a federal investigation or case. There may be a warrant issued for the arrest of a person who is a victim or a witness based on their immigration status, or based on the person’s involvement in another criminal case.

Currently under California law, the only victims and witnesses who are protected from arrest and deportation are victims and witnesses of hate crimes. This new law would expand this protection to victims or witnesses of all crimes.

Undocumented immigrants should also remember that depending on a person’s involvement and participation in a federal criminal investigation, he or she may be eligible for a visa that would help him or her stay in the country legally and assist with the investigation.

Federal officials have stated that a person’s status as a victim or a witness alone is not enough to stop the person from getting deported. The law the California legislature has approved will not stop a person’s deportation, it simply slows down the process. California law will not make changes to federal immigration law, and so a person can still be picked up in courthouses by federal agents whether the person is a victim, witness, or a person charged with a crime. The California law would simply block local police officers from taking action to assist with the deportation of victims and witnesses.

If the governor signs the law and does not veto it, it is expected to take effect in January of 2018. There are additional proposed laws aimed at assisting undocumented immigrants, such as a law that would make California a sanctuary state. The success of these laws would be greatly beneficial to many undocumented immigrants who live peacefully in California without committing criminal offenses.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

For more information on the protection from deportation available to victims and witnesses of crimes, or for legal assistance with your immigration issues, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to experienced immigration attorney Nathan Wei from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California for a consultation.


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