- Associated Press - Monday, January 5, 2015

PHOENIX (AP) - A judge has barred Maricopa County officials from enforcing two Arizona identity-theft laws that have been used to convict hundreds of immigrant workers.

The decision Monday by U.S. District Judge David Campbell came nearly three weeks after Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio voluntarily disbanded his squad that raided dozens of businesses to arrest more than 700 immigrants who were charged with using fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.

While other agencies make arrests under the two laws, Arpaio’s office is the only department in the state to raid businesses in enforcement of the statutes. The closure of the sheriff’s squad ended Arpaio’s last major foothold in immigration enforcement after the courts and federal government have gradually reined in his powers in recent years.

Campbell said immigrant-rights advocates who challenged the enforcement of the ID theft laws are likely to succeed in claiming the state’s identity-theft laws are trumped by federal law.

Annie Lai, an attorney leading the challenge of the two laws, said that Monday’s ruling gives the immigrant community extra protection if Arpaio were to pursue such cases in the future. “If they were to decide they wanted to resume the workplace raids, that would now be in violation of a federal court order,” Lai said.

Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery said the 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. Appealing the grant of a preliminary injunction is under review,” Montgomery added in a statement.

Arpaio said “the citizens of Maricopa County have been stripped of another protection that this state attempted to enact to protect the integrity and identity of its citizens.”

“I do not understand how federal law can pre-empt state law when the federal government has proven it has no desire to protect its citizens in these areas. I hope that the decision to appeal this particular opinion is made bravely and quickly,” Arpaio added in a statement Monday night.

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. The package has been criticized as focusing too heavily on workers and too little on employers.

Attorneys seeking to overturn the laws had argued that the Legislature’s intent in passing the two laws wasn’t to confront identity theft but rather to combat illegal immigration and prompt immigrants to leave the country.

County lawyers who defended the laws in court contended the purpose of the laws wasn’t to confront illegal immigration but rather to combat identity theft.

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 accumulate 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 getting loans.

In recent years, the courts have struck down several Arizona laws that sought to confront illegal immigration, such as a 2006 voter-approved law that denied bail to certain immigrants.

Still, a small number of Arizona’s immigration laws have been upheld, including a key section of the state’s landmark 2010 immigration law that requires police to check people’s immigration status under certain circumstances.

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