Appeals Court Hands Arpaio A Victory On ID Theft Laws

By Jude Joffe-Block
May 02, 2016
Photo courtesy
Maricopa County Sheriff's Officers raid the On Your Way Car Wash in Peoria, Ariz. in October 2009.

PHOENIX — A federal appeals court has ruled to reinstate two Arizona identity theft laws that make it a felony to use a fake identity to seek work, and provided the legal basis for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s worksite raids against unauthorized immigrants.

The laws had been put on hold by a lower court judge after the pro-immigrant rights group Puente challenged them in federal court in 2014.

Critics say the laws were used as a mechanism to deport immigrants from Maricopa County. Once unauthorized immigrants were convicted of a felony under these laws, they would become ineligible for immigration relief and a priority for deportation.

Puente argued the laws should be struck down because it is up to the federal government — not the state or local law enforcement — to prosecute immigrants working without the proper papers.

U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell agreed to put the laws on hold while the litigation moved forward, and instated a preliminary injunction.

Maricopa County officials appealed that ruling.

While the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has rarely sided with Maricopa County on immigration matters in recent years, the court did this time. A three-judge panel ruled to reverse the preliminary injunction on Monday. 

The panel found that the laws could be used to prosecute U.S. citizens who used false identities, and for that reason they were not preempted by federal immigration law on their face.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the ruling means his office will reexamine the work-related identity theft cases it closed while the laws were on hold.

“It was nice to see the Ninth Circuit drawing a line here, and saying there is not federal preemption just because you want to invoke federal immigration policy,” Montgomery said. “Arizona has taken a reasonable approach here to try and address identity theft.”

Carlos Garcia of Puente called the ruling “disappointing,” though he said it is just an intermediate step in a lawsuit that is still ongoing.

The ruling did not weigh in on some of Puente’s other legal arguments against the laws, and those will still be considered by Campbell.

“What we are going to tell the community is not to panic,” Garcia said. “Arpaio cannot start doing the raids tomorrow. There is still a process. This is a bump in the road but the lawsuit continues.”

A separate civil rights lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Maricopa County also addressed  worksite raids. As part of a settlement in that suit that was signed last summer, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office is required to get approval before it can reinstate worksite raids.

Sheriff Joe Arpaio said in a statement that he would be reviewing the procedures he agreed to with the U.S. Department of Justice.  

“I have not yet decided when or if to resurrect identity theft enforcement,” Arpaio said.

There is a 21-day period before Monday’s ruling can take effect. Puente may choose to appeal for review from a larger Ninth Circuit panel.