Immigrant reform advocates are urging an Arizona judge to block two identity theft laws that are the legal foundation for raids on businesses conducted by Maricopa County (Phoenix) Sheriff Joe Arpaio's office in which hundreds of immigrant workers have been charged with using stolen or fake IDs to get jobs.
The 2007 and 2008 laws are revamped versions of Arizona's identity theft statutes that made it a crime to use fake or stolen IDs for the purpose of getting or keeping jobs. They were part of legislation seeking to confront employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Attorneys representing immigrant-rights group Puente, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other plaintiffs filed a motion for a preliminary injunction after filing a class-action lawsuit in June. The suit seeks to eliminate the last legal footing Arpaio has to conduct his own brand of immigration enforcement using workplace raids.
Supporters of the identity theft laws argue immigrants stealing identities to get jobs are committing a crime and that victims could run into troubles as a result - such as obtaining loans. Attorneys representing the offices of Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery want the class-action suit dismissed, saying those who filed the case lack legal ground.
They also oppose the motion for a preliminary injunction, arguing that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on the merits of their claims and haven't shown sufficient, irreparable injury to the plaintiffs.
Arpaio's office has conducted more than 80 business raids since 2008, leading to the arrests of more than 700 immigrants. Only one employer has been criminally charged in those investigations.
Advocacy groups argue intent behind passing the identity theft statutes wasn't to confront identity theft but to combat illegal immigration.
Annie Lai, a lawyer from the University of California-Irvine School of Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic, said the ulterior motive of the legislators was to target undocumented immigrants.
Lai argues Arizona laws are trumped by federal immigration statutes. She also cited comments made by former state Sen. Tom O'Halleran, R-Sedona, stating his intent behind the laws was to make sure those committing fraud would be charged with a crime that was so serious, it would keep them locked up while the case was pending and until they were deported.
Lai said Arpaio and prosecutors should be prohibited from enforcing the laws while U.S. District Judge David G. Campbell considers the case.
Lawyers representing immigrants in criminal identity theft cases have said their clients used fake or stolen identities to get jobs, and not to rack up debt under another name. In most cases, the immigrants plead guilty to a felony, often face deportation and are unable to ever legally re-enter the U.S.
The courts slowly have dismantled laws seeking to draw local police into immigration enforcement. Arpaio's immigration powers initially suffered a defeat in late 2009 when the federal government took away the power of some of his officers to make federal immigration arrests. Those restrictions continued when a judge ruled in May 2013 that Arpaio's office had racially profiled Latinos during patrols.
Last week, an appeals court struck down Arizona's 2006 voter-approved law that denies bail to people in the U.S. illegally who are charged with certain crimes.
But a few of Arizona's immigration laws have been upheld, including a section of 2010 legislation that requires police to check people's immigration status under certain circumstances.
Judge Campbell said he will issue a ruling as quickly as possible following arguments last Thursday.