- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 5, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Attorneys challenging Arizona identity theft laws that were used to charge hundreds of immigrants are asking a judge to order the release of emails between the lawmaker who was the chief sponsor of the statutes and advocates for tougher immigration enforcement.

The lawyers filed papers Monday saying the state and former state Sen. Russell Pearce are citing legislative privilege and First Amendment protections in withholding about 20 emails between Pearce and consultants, lobbyists and voters.

The lawsuit alleges the Legislature acted in a discriminatory fashion when it passed laws that were used to target people who were in the country illegally and accused of using fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.

A judge issued a preliminary injunction in early 2015 that barred Maricopa County officials from enforcing the two ID laws. A few weeks earlier, Sheriff Joe Arpaio voluntarily disbanded his squad that raided dozens of businesses to arrest more than 700 immigrants. The raids marked Arpaio’s last major avenue for immigration enforcement.

While county authorities have appealed the 2015 decision, immigrant rights advocates have continued to press their case in hopes of getting the county permanently prohibited from enforcing the laws.

The ID theft laws were passed in 2007 and 2008 as part of a package of criminal and civil laws aimed at confronting the problem of businesses that hire people who aren’t in the country legally. The package has since been criticized for leading to hundreds of criminal cases against immigrant workers while only a handful of employers have been called to court in criminal and civil cases.

Attorneys representing Pearce said in court papers that the former lawmaker has handed over more than 2,000 emails in the case. They say the documents are protected by his First Amendment protections and a legislative privilege against being forced to testify or offer evidence on legislative activities.

Pearce didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday afternoon seeking comment.

Attorneys who challenged Arizona’s landmark 2010 immigration law took a similar approach in seeking the emails of Pearce and other state officials in trying to prove their claim that the law was passed with discriminatory intent.

The judge who dismissed that challenge last year ruled that the law’s opponents didn’t prove officers would enforce the law differently for Latinos than for a person of another race who is in a similar situation.

“We remain optimistic that the information we are gathering will help us prevail,” said Annie Lai, one of the attorneys leading the challenge to the identity theft laws.

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Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud. His work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/content/jacques-billeaud .

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