A new California bill that would expand protections against deportations for illegal immigrants who are victims or witnesses of crime—including those with a criminal history and gang membership—is being supported by Los Angeles officials, including District Attorney George Gascón.

Assembly Bill 1261, named the “Immigrant Rights Act,” was authored by Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) in February, but Los Angeles officials held a press conference in support of the bill on April 10.

“Far too often undocumented victims of crime and witnesses to crime are afraid to come forward because they are afraid of deportation. Your immigration status should never be a barrier to safety,” Gascón said during the media briefing. “Public safety for everyone and equal access to the justice system is possible if we protect those that are most vulnerable.”

Santiago said during the April 10 press conference the bill will “reduce crime” and also “protect some of our most vulnerable community members,” who may be victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and trafficking.

“Fear of detection, deportation, dismissal, or humiliation often prevent undocumented crime victims or witnesses of crime from seeking assistance from law enforcement agencies,” Santiago said in an April 11 filing of the bill’s analysis.

Former Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, who served from 2000 to 2012, told The Epoch Times the proposed bill is “vastly expanding the protection to a whole new array of crimes and persons.”

“Maybe Gascón ought to stop protecting criminals and start advancing the interests of true victims,” he said. “This bill includes criminals with criminal records, both federal and state and works against the federal government’s legitimate exercise of their powers to deport people illegally in this country, particularly criminals.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, also in support, said during the press conference illegal immigrants “are more likely to be victims and survivors of crime than their citizen counterparts.”

Under current federal laws, there are petitions that can be sought for temporary immigration benefits—known as a U Visa— if someone is a witness to or informant of a crime.

But the proposed bill would expand protections to allow undocumented immigrants—regardless of criminal history and immigration status—to be certified by an official as a witness or informant on the federal petition form if they have important information about a crime, are willing to share it with law enforcement, and their presence in the United States is important for solving it.

The bill—which is currently being discussed in the Assembly’s Public Safety Committee—is also supported by Asian Americans Advancing Justice Southern California, Koreatown Youth & Community Center, Thai Community Development Center, and the Chinatown Service Center.

Santiago and Gascón were not immediately available for comment by press deadline.

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