A judge is set to hear arguments Thursday over whether to shelve two Arizona laws that are the legal foundation for business raids by metro Phoenix's sheriff in which hundreds of immigrant workers have been charged with using fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.
Attorneys pushing the case say the ID theft laws discriminate against noncitizens and are trumped by federal immigration statutes.
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They are asking for Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and prosecutors to be barred from enforcing the laws while U.S. District Judge David Campbell decides the larger issues of the case.
Lawyers defending the laws say Arpaio and others aren't trying to penalize immigrants for being in the country without authorization but rather are seeking to combat the pervasive problem of ID theft within their communities. They say there's no conflict between state and federal law and that the two statutes are neutral on the issue of race and national origin.
The 2007 and 2008 laws were revamped versions of Arizona's identity-theft statutes that made it a new crime to use fake or stolen IDs for the purpose of getting or keeping jobs. They were part of a package of legislation that sought to confront employers who hire immigrants who are in the country illegally — and are blamed for fueling the nation's border woes.
Arpaio's office has conducted 83 business raids since the law took effect in 2008, leading to the arrests of more than 700 immigrants. Only one employer has been criminally charged in those investigations.
Lawyers who have represented the immigrants in criminal ID theft cases have said their clients used fake or stolen identities to get jobs, not to rack up debt under another person's name. Typically, the immigrants plead guilty to a felony, frequently face deportation and are unable to ever re-enter the U.S. legally.
Supporters of the ID theft laws say immigrants who steal identities to get jobs are still committing a crime and that victims could face difficulties such as problems getting loans.
The raids are one of Arpaio's last remaining avenues for his signature immigration enforcement efforts.
The sheriff's immigration powers first were reined in late 2009 when Washington stripped some of his officers of their power to make federal immigration arrests. The restrictions continued when a judge ruled in May 2013 that Arpaio's office had systematically racially profiled Latinos in patrols.
And a year ago, another judge prohibited Arpaio from using a contentious tactic in the enforcement of Arizona's smuggling ban in which immigrants who paid to be sneaked into the country are charged with conspiring to smuggle themselves.
While other agencies make arrests under the two ID theft laws, Arpaio's office is the only department in the state to raid businesses in enforcement of the statutes.
The hearing over the ID theft laws comes a day after an appeals court struck down Arizona's 2006 voter-approved law that denies bail to people in the country illegally who are charged with certain crimes.
The ruling marked yet another defeat for advocates for tougher immigration enforcement.
A small number of Arizona's immigration laws have been upheld, including a key section of its landmark 2010 immigration law that requires police to check people's immigration status under certain circumstances.
But the courts have slowly dismantled other laws that sought to draw local police into immigration enforcement.