A new law will keep a person’s immigration status private during most civil lawsuits in Illinois.
“Immigration Status Should Never Be Used as a Weapon”
Gov. JB Pritzker signed the measure on August 23, 2019. The law would prohibit somebody’s immigration status from being used against them in a way that would prevent them from testifying safely and freely in civil court.
Anyone seeking to offer evidence relating to a person’s immigration status must file a written motion laying out the evidence and describing the purpose for which it is offered at least fourteen days before a hearing or trial. A judge would then conduct a hearing in camera to determine whether the person’s immigration status is essential to the case. If the judge decides that it is not essential, the information would be sealed.
If the evidence about immigration status is admissible, it must be offered to prove an interest or bias of a witness, it must not cause confusion of the issues or mislead the trier of fact, and the probative value of the evidence must outweigh its prejudicial nature. Additionally, the law also makes it a Class C misdemeanor to use a person’s immigration status as a means of intimidating them from testifying.
“Someone’s immigration status should never be used as a weapon against them, especially in a civil court of law,” said Pritzker. “I’m proud to sign this bill into law to ensure immigrants can seek justice without fear. In this state, we will take every action to protect our immigrant communities because they are a vital part of our state and deserve to live with dignity.”
SB 1429 Allows Immigrants to Access Justice
The bill, known as SB 1429, was sponsored by Chicago Democratic Sen. Ram Villivalam of Chicago, an Indian immigrant, and Glenview Democratic Rep. Jennifer Gong-Gershowitz.
“Tragically, criminals prey on immigrant communities by inappropriately using immigration status as an intimidation tactic to prevent individuals from asserting their rights under the law,” said Gong-Gershowitz.
“I know firsthand that immigrants have not pursued justice, at times, due to fear that their immigration status will be brought up in court,” Villivalam added. “That ends now. Whether related to workers’ compensation, harassment, discrimination, wage theft, or a whole host of other issues, all residents of our state deserve to access justice without fear.”
Kyle Herrera of the Shriver Center on Poverty Law said the measure would work in tandem with a judge’s ability to make decisions.
“The major change [is the] elevated burden [for] a person who wants to introduce the evidence,” said Herrera. “Now it’s whether it’s more prejudicial than probative is the question of admissibility of evidence. Whereas, under the bill, it’s whether the evidence is essential to prove a claim or defense. So it’s a much more stringent standard. That evidence can still be brought into question, but it is a lot harder.”
The law goes into effect on January 1, 2020.