Threatening to Report Someone as Undocumented is a Crime in California

Legal protections for illegally present aliens facing threats in California.

Although the population of undocumented immigrants in California is one of the highest in the nation, usually estimated at between two and three million, secrecy is the norm within this group. Undocumented Californians remain at constant risk of being arrested, detained, and placed into deportation (removal) proceedings.

That gives a dangerous amount of leverage to someone wanting to take advantage of an undocumented immigrant—which is why the State of California enacted laws protecting immigrants who are:

  • the victims of extortion, or

  • the victims of retaliation in the workplace or by an attorney.

Protection for Undocumented Immigrant Extortion Victims

The crime of extortion (sometimes referred to as blackmail) is ordinarily understood to describe a situation where someone obtain money or property not by a direct threat of violence (which would be a robbery), but by a less direct threat, such as to a victim's property, reputation, or loved ones.

Under California law, for example, threatening to accuse someone of a crime, or to expose a secret affecting the person, can be considered extortion. Also on the California list is threatening to report someone’s immigration status or suspected immigration status, or that of the person’s family. It is thus punishable under the California Penal Code (Section 519), which carries a sentence of between two and four years in prison.

If you are a victim of this sort of extortion, you may want to report it to the police. Have a talk with an immigration attorney first, however, to assess the risks of coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

Protection for Undocumented Immigrant Workplace Retaliation Victims

Penalties can also be brought against professionals and businesses that attempt use someone’s immigration status as a form of unfair pressure or retaliation.

Specifically, an attorney who, in response to someone exercising a right related to employment, reports the person's suspected immigration status, can be suspended, disbarred, or otherwise disciplined. The same is true if the attorney threatens to report the immigration status of someone in the client's circle, such as a family member or a witness or party to a civil or administrative action. This is according to Business and Professions Code Section 6103.7. The term "family member" includes a spouse, parent, sibling, child, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, cousin, grandparent, or grandchild related by blood, adoption, marriage, or domestic partnership.

Relatedly, employers who report or threaten to report the actual or suspected immigration status of an employee, former employee, prospective employee, or that person's family member, to a federal, state, or local agency because the employee, former employee, or prospective employee has exercised a right under the provisions of the California Labor, Government, or Civil Code will be considered to have taken an adverse action violating the person's rights. "Family member" has the same meaning as just above. This comes from Section 244 of the California Labor Code.

See an attorney if you think your rights have been violated as described in this section of California law.

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