Federal Judge Upholds Arizona Identity Theft Laws Used To Arrest Migrant Workers

By Jude Joffe-Block
Published: Thursday, November 24, 2016 - 5:05am
(Photo by Paul Atkinson - KJZZ)

A federal judge has upheld two Arizona identity-theft laws that were the basis for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s worksite raids that resulted in the arrests of hundreds of unauthorized immigrant workers.

The judge also ruled that county prosecutors cannot rely on federal employment-eligibility forms to prosecute immigrants for identity theft under the state statutes.

The case began when the immigrant rights group Puente sued Arizona and Maricopa County over two state identity-theft laws that criminalize taking an identity for the purpose of employment. The laws were mostly used to prosecute unauthorized immigrants working with fake identities.

Puente argued it’s solely the federal government’s job to regulate whether immigrants can work and therefore the state laws were preempted by federal law.  

In 2015, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell agreed to block the two ID-theft laws in question on a preliminary basis.

But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling.

Puente came back with new arguments, but this time Campbell ruled the laws could remain in effect, as long as prosecutors did not use the federal I-9 form to prosecute an immigrant worker.

The ruling was a victory for the state of Arizona, Arpaio and County Attorney Bill Montgomery.

“What this order ultimately says for us in Arizona is the state of Arizona is free to protect its residents from Identity theft,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery said he hoped the ruling in his favor would “put an end to ACLU and Puente nonsense.” He said just because someone “winds up being prosecuted by the state of Arizona who is here without lawful authority, that doesn’t mean the focus of that law or the interest of my office is in that person’s immigration status.”

But attorney Annie Lai who represents Puente says the ruling doesn’t go far enough. Lai said her team is still considering its options over whether to appeal.

“Unfortunately, this still leaves the door open for enterprising politicians to prosecute undocumented workers so long as they can find another document that worker filled out in the effort to try and obtain a job,” Lai said.

In fact, Montgomery had already directed his prosecutors to stop using the I-9 form in these prosecutions as early as 2014.

The ruling said that the evidence presented to the court suggested only 10 percent of the prosecutions between 2005 and 2015 were based on the I-9 form.

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