PHOENIX (CN) - Federal law prevents Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies from raiding businesses under two Arizona identity theft laws, civil rights lawyers argued during a hearing Thursday.
Puente Arizona, a human rights group, and several others sued Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and Maricopa County in June in Federal Court. They claimed Arpaio and his deputies were using two laws passed in 2007 and 2008 to unconstitutionally arrest undocumented workers.
The plaintiffs seek an injunction to stop agencies from enforcing the laws.
Passed in 2007, House Bill 2779 -the "Legal Arizona Workers Act" - created a new offense of aggravated identity theft: to use false information or the information of another person to gain employment.
House Bill 2745 supplemented the act in 2008 by adding the intent to gain employment as part of the offense.
Anne Lai of the University of California-Irvine School of Law's Immigrant Rights Clinic, on behalf of the plaintiffs, argued during the hearing that federal law supersedes any state interest in prosecution of identity theft.
"Aren't you saying the statute is unlawful as applied to undocumented workers?" Phoenix Federal Judge David G. Campbell asked.
"When a statute is facially pre-empted, any application is unconstitutional," Lai responded. "The federal interest is so strong."
Lai told Campbell that even though it sounds "unorthodox," the state is powerless to address identity theft if it applies to immigration matters.
Campbell questioned whether the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office could enforce other state laws on identity theft, even if Campbell enjoins enforcement of the two laws at issue.
Jessica Karp Bansal, of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, replied that the specific harm to the plaintiffs is found only in these two statutes and would be eliminated with the injunction.
Campbell questioned what he saw as lack of evidence that plaintiffs suffer harm from the enforcement of these laws.
"The irreparable harm is they are being deprived of the right to violate federal law?" he asked.
Bansal said Puente could go to its members for more evidence of the harm they suffer from the two laws, but asked that it be done under protective order to ensure no criminal prosecution for members who are undocumented workers.
The state disagreed with the plaintiffs' contention that it could not prosecute identity theft.
"This is a state identity theft law," said Ann Thompson Uglietta, representing Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. "There is substantial data showing identity theft in Arizona is an acute problem."
G. Michael Tryon, speaking on behalf of the state, agreed.
"The Arizona laws have nothing to do with immigration or illegal immigrants," Tryon said. "They have everything to do with identity theft."
The defense questioned the plaintiffs' delay in bringing the legal action.
"These statutes were enacted six or seven years ago," Arpaio's lawyer, Michele Iafrate, pointed out. "Sleeping on the statutes indicates it's not so urgent."
Iafrate expressed doubt that Puente members are affected by the laws, citing lack of evidence in the plaintiffs' filings.
"It's very hard to argue against a group when you don't know who the group is," Iafrate said. "One person does not make an organization."
Campbell did not indicate when he will issue a ruling on the plaintiffs' request for an injunction.
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