Judge Stops Arpaio's Worksite Raids

By Jude Joffe-Block
January 06, 2015

PHOENIX — A federal judge has blocked Maricopa County from enforcing two state laws that were used to criminalize unauthorized immigrants for working with fake IDs.

The ruling is the latest legal blow to efforts by Arizona and the county to discourage illegal immigration.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by the immigrant rights group Puente. The suit challenges Sheriff Joe Arpaio's practice of arresting unauthorized immigrants in worksite raids, and County Attorney Bill Montgomery's prosecution of them.

The suit alleges two statutes passed by the state legislature in 2007 and 2008 that criminalize working with a fake identity should be invalidated because it’s the federal government’s job to regulate which immigrants can work.

On Monday, United States District Judge David Campbell agreed to block those provisions as the case is litigated.

One of the plaintiffs in the case is Noemi Romero, who was arrested in a worksite raid in 2012.

“When I was led away from my job in handcuffs, I never thought I would see the day that we took Arpaio and Montgomery to court instead of the other way around,” Romero said. “We lost our fear and made this lawsuit happen, and now others in our community won’t have to suffer like we did.”

Hundreds of immigrants were arrested under these state laws and were charged with felonies. Many were ultimately deported as a result.

ACLU of Arizona attorney Dan Pochoda represents the plaintiffs, and called Campbell’s ruling a victory.

“The worksite raids was one of the last weapons, if you will, the sheriff was using in his campaign — racially based campaign, as courts have found — against immigrants in this county,” Pochoda said.

In 2013 a different federal judge found the sheriff’s office racially profiled Latinos and ordered the department to stop some immigration enforcement tactics.  

That other ruling, however, did not extend to the worksite raids.  

Last month, the sheriff’s office volunteered to end the worksite raids. The sheriff's office also asked Campbell to dismiss Puente’s lawsuit.

In Monday’s ruling, however, Campbell denied the request to dismiss the suit.

Lawyers for the defendants had argued in court that these identity theft laws were not only enforced against unauthorized immigrants, and therefore cannot be preempted by federal immigration law. But Campbell cited records that showed that legislators’ intent in passing these two statutes was to curb illegal immigration.

Campbell mentioned in his order that one state senator, Tom O’Halleran, “stated that people convicted under the identity theft law would be encouraged to ‘self-deport.’”

Montgomery, who is also a named defendant, said he is reviewing the possibility of an appeal.

Montgomery said in a statement the ruling means “victims of identity theft are deprived of the State of Arizona’s protection.”