Restrict inquiry into immigration status in unrelated cases, law professors urge

If you’re in court for a landlord-tenant case, or an auto accident or domestic violence hearing, should the other side be allowed to ask about your immigration status? Common sense suggests that the answer is no. Unless the case is actually about your immigration status, it’s just not relevant – and it could be prejudicial.

In fact, the prospect of being asked about immigration in an unrelated matter can easily frighten immigrants from seeking justice in court, even when they have valid claims or defenses – as both the Sheller Center and PA’s Interbranch Commission have reported.

Pennsylvania’s rules of evidence, however, haven’t addressed the problem until recently, when the PA Supreme Court Rules Committee proposed a new “comment” to the rules. The comment would say that a person’s immigration status is generally irrelevant and inadmissible.

In response, law professors from Drexel, Penn, Penn State, Pitt, Temple (including the Sheller Center), Villanova, and Widener submitted a letter strongly supporting the proposal – while also arguing that it does not go far enough.  Instead of addressing the issue through a non-binding comment, the letter states, the Committee should develop an actual rule – such as exists in California and Washington – that would provide clear, non-discretionary guidance to judges, lawyers, and parties.