PHOENIX (CN) - A federal judge Monday barred Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio from ordering workplace raids to arrest undocumented immigrants using stolen identities to work under two Arizona identity theft laws.
U.S. District Judge David Campbell found that the raids by Arpaio and his deputies were probably unconstitutional and prevented by federal law.
Puente Arizona, a civil rights group, filed a class action challenging the constitutionality of the raids against Arpaio, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, and Robert Halliday, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, in June 2014.
Arpaio used the state laws, which criminally punish people who use another person's identity to secure a job, to conduct his workplace raids.
Arizona House Bill 2779 in 2007 created a new offense of aggravated identity theft for people using false information or the information of another person. Arizona House Bill 2745 supplemented the act in 2008 by adding the intent to gain employment as part of the offense.
Arpaio announced in December that he would disband his immigration investigation unit at the end of January or in early February, once they complete an ongoing theft investigation.
Judge Campbell found that the class had standing to sue Arpaio, despite his decision to disband his unit. Other law enforcement agencies in Maricopa County could still enforce the laws, including Montgomery, placing members of the class at risk of prosecution.
"First, many Puente members, including leaders, have reduced their participation in Puente's activities because the identity theft laws have caused financial difficulties and made them afraid of arrest and retaliation," Campbell wrote. "Second, Puente has diverted substantial resources to respond to the workplace raids through which the MCSO has enforced the identity theft laws."
Plaintiff Noemi Romero, who was arrested in a raid in 2012, said she never thought she would see the day when Arpaio and Montgomery would be taken to court.
"We lost our fear and made this lawsuit happen, and now others in our community won't have to suffer like we did," Romero said in a statement.
Campbell also found that the laws were pre-empted by federal immigration law, and that the class would likely succeed in proving that regulation of identity theft by unauthorized immigrants is in the hands of the federal government.
"The Arizona identity theft laws include only a criminal sanction. They make the use of false documents to obtain employment a felony offense punishable by a prison term that may exceed five years," Campbell wrote. "Under the federal scheme, federal authorities have a range of options," including penalties, immigration consequences, or prison terms less than five years.
While the laws are facially neutral in that they apply to U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants, the "titles of H.B. 2779 and H.B. 2745 - the 'Legal Arizona Workers' Act' and 'Employment of Unauthorized Aliens' - reflect a clear intent to regulate employment of unauthorized aliens" by the Arizona Legislature, Campbell found.
"This is an enormous victory for our community," Carlos Garcia, executive director of Puente, said in a statement. "Arpaio and Montgomery are being stripped of the tools they use to illegally terrorize immigrant workers and families. We hope that justice will continue to prevail, that not one more worker is arrested for providing for his or her family and that the racist, anti-immigrant machine for which Arizona is known is dismantled completely."
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