If evidence of immigration status can freely be revealed during court proceedings, immigrants or witnesses may choose to forego going to court. This fear can be a potent weapon against immigrants who need protection from abuse, seek unpaid wages from an employer, or have other legal problems. Allowing immigration information to be used in court proceedings on unrelated issues undermines the public interest and interferes with the obligations of the courts to vindicate the legal rights of parties. For this reason, the issue of when immigration status may be revealed should be strictly regulated.
The good news is that the Rules Committee of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has proposed a new rule of evidence concerning immigration status. The Sheller Center, in conjunction with law professors across Pennsylvania, has submitted a letter commenting on this new rule. While the letter applauds the creation of a rule, it urges the Committee to make additional changes to ensure that the rights of immigrants are adequately protected.
This letter, which is a follow up from the first letter from Pennsylvania Law Professors, suggests further narrowing of the situations in which immigration status can be considered in civil proceedings. It also requests that a more explicit procedure be put in place for litigants who wish to introduce evidence of immigration status, such as requiring an advance written motion and in camera review. Not only are these suggestions comparable to what states like Washington and California are doing, but they also serve the important purpose of allowing courts to maintain open access to the courts for all Pennsylvanians.