Federal Judge Halts Arizona’s Arpaio Worksite Raids
PHOENIX — A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Monday blocking Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery from enforcing two state laws that make it a felony for undocumented immigrants to use stolen identities to obtain work.
The injunction essentially prevents Arpaio from continuing to conduct his controversial worksite raids to arrest undocumented workers and Montgomery from prosecuting them.
However, Arpaio had already announced in December that he planned to disband his worksite unit at the end of January or in early February once they completed an ongoing investigation.
Since 2008, the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has conducted more than 80 worksite raids, which have resulted in the arrests of more than 700 undocumented workers.
The workers typically agreed to plead guilty to felony charges after being held behind bars for weeks under another state law that made undocumented immigrants charged with serious crimes ineligible to be released on bond. That law also has been thrown out in federal court.
Many of the arrested immigrants were turned over to federal immigration officials and deported. Their felony convictions virtually destroyed any chance of ever being able to return to the U.S. legally.
In Monday’s ruling, U.S. District Court Judge David Campbell said that the two state laws that criminalize the act of identify theft for the purpose of obtaining employment are likely unconstitutional because they are pre-empted by federal law.
“We are thrilled that the ruling recognizes that the Maricopa County sheriff and Maricopa County attorney are not above the law,” said Jessica Bansal, litigation director for the National Day Labor Organizing Network, one of several groups that filed a federal lawsuit challenging the ID theft laws.
“And we are very happy that the court has recognized the harm the raids were causing to the migrant community and offers them some protection” until the case is concluded, Bansal said.
In a statement, Montgomery said “today’s ruling underscores yet again the consequences of federal inaction and the Obama Administration’s indifference to the effects of unlawful immigration practices. While pretending to address the concerns of people admittedly violating the law, the victims of identity theft are deprived of the State of Arizona’s protection.”
He said his office is reviewing an appeal of the preliminary injunction
Attorneys representing immigrant-rights group Puente, the American Civil Liberties Union and several other plaintiffs filed the motion for a preliminary injunction shortly after filing a class-action lawsuit in June, which seeks to eliminate the last legal footing Arpaio has to conduct his own brand of immigration enforcement using workplace raids.
The motion sought to preclude the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and County Attorney’s Office from enforcing two state provisions in identity-theft laws that critics say are intended to target undocumented immigrants.
The two state laws in question, “taking identity of another person or entity” and “aggravated taking identity of another person or entity,” were frequently cited as the legal backing behind Arpaio’s workplace raids.
The suit alleges that the statutes, while purporting to enforce all varieties of identity theft, are thinly veiled mechanisms used to promote a broader, anti-immigration agenda.
Arpaio defended his practices and said that his investigations target identity thieves regardless of their immigration status.
But last month, Arpaio voluntarily disbanded the controversial criminal employment unit — a decision that plaintiffs hailed as a direct result of the lawsuit.
Earlier, Arpaio’s office said the sheriff will disband the unit in early 2015 after “careful consideration” with command staff.
“The grant money issued to his office from the state of Arizona will be returned to the state, and the deputies assigned to the unit will be reassigned to other duties,” the statement said. “Sheriff Arpaio stresses that ID theft and ID fraud remain criminal offenses under Arizona Revised Statutes. Deputies and detectives will continue to investigate these crimes.”
Contributing: Michael Kiefer, The Arizona Republic.