(CN) – Iowa cannot prosecute a “Dreamer” and mother of four for using another person’s Social Security number prior to her acceptance into the Obama administration’s deferred-action immigration program, the state’s high court ruled in a 4-3 decision.
Martha Martinez came to the U.S. with her parents at age 11, and has lived in the country continuously since then.
When she was 17, she applied for and obtained an Iowa driver’s license using another person’s Social Security number under the name Diana Casteneda.
Martinez used the same false Social Security number to get a job at Packer Sanitation, a business in Muscatine County, Iowa.
In 2013, Martinez won temporary lawful immigration status as a “Dreamer” under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program.
She then applied for an Iowa driver’s license under her own name and newly issued Social Security number.
But the state, using facial recognition technology, noticed that Martinez’s new picture matched the one on her prior license under the name Diana Casteneda.
An investigator contacted Martinez, and she admitted to obtaining the false ID and working in the U.S. using a false Social Security number.
Iowa prosecutors then charged her with identity fraud and forgery. If convicted of either felony, Martinez would be subject to immediate deportation.
A federal judge ruled that federal immigration law did not preempt Martinez’s prosecution under state law, but a sharply divided Iowa Supreme Court reversed the decision Friday.
“The Iowa identity theft statute is preempted to the extent it regulates fraud committed to allow an unauthorized alien to work in the United States in violation of federal immigration law,” Justice Brent Appel said, writing for the court’s 4-3 majority.
The court’s vote split along party lines. All three Democratic appointees were joined by Chief Justice Mark Cady, a Republican appointee, in the majority opinion.
“Because the federal immigration law occupies the field regarding the employment of unauthorized aliens, the state in this case cannot prosecute Martinez for identity theft related to false documentation supplied to her employer as an unauthorized alien,” Appel continued.
The federal government has the exclusively authority to regulate immigration law, including the employment of illegal immigrants, otherwise a patchwork of state laws would result in inconsistent laws across the nation, the 35-page opinion states.
While Martinez may be prosecuted under federal law, “Federal authorities in this case appear to be willing to defer any potential federal immigration action on equitable and humanitarian grounds,” Appel said. “Martinez came to the United States as a child, an illegal entry for which she is not personally responsible. She was educated in Iowa, has no criminal record, is a productive member of the community, and now has four children who are citizens of the United States. … Federal enforcement officials might well weigh the fact that a mother would be separated from her four children who are United States citizens as a very undesirable result.”
Further, Martinez stepped forward to participate in the DACA program, voluntarily exposing her immigration status with the hope of becoming a fully law-abiding U.S. resident.
“Federal authorities might blanch at prosecuting a person who in good faith responded to their invitation to come out of the shadows for deferred action,” Appel said.
Three of the court’s seven justices dissented, asserting that the ruling gives illegal immigrants a pass for using forged documents to gain employment, but would penalize an American citizen for doing the same thing.
“The majority’s ruling will apply to all unauthorized aliens who use a false identity to work in this state, whether they are as sympathetic as Martinez or not,” Justice Edward Mansfield said, writing for the dissenting justices. “An unauthorized alien who is working under an alias to avoid paying taxes or cover up a criminal history will also reap the benefit of today’s decision. At the same time, an American citizen who is just as sympathetic as Martinez will not benefit from today’s decision. Our job should not be to pick winners or losers but to apply federal law as given to us by Congress and state law as given to us by the general assembly.”