- Associated Press - Thursday, July 7, 2016

PHOENIX (AP) - Lawyers challenging identity theft laws that were used to charge hundreds of immigrants in Arizona are asking a judge to sanction Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Office for a sergeant’s destruction of notes from his discussions with prosecutors about enforcing the statutes.

The attorneys said in court records last week that the destruction of the notes denied them the chance to show that the sheriff’s office failed to change how it handled federal employment eligibility documents during raids of businesses.

Immigrant rights advocates say federal law prohibits local officers from using the I-9 forms and that authorities have used the records to charge workers with using fraudulent IDs to get jobs.

As a punishment, they have asked a federal judge to bar prosecutors and the sheriff’s office from offering testimony on the subject. They also are seeking unspecified attorney fees for litigating the issue.

The sheriff’s office didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on the filing.

Prosecutors say they have filed work-related ID theft cases by using documents other than the I-9. They say they have revised their policies to bar prosecutors from relying on the I-9 as evidence and, as a result, have gotten dismissals in some pending ID theft cases.

This isn’t the first time immigrant rights advocates have sought sanctions against Arpaio’s office in an immigration-related case.

In late 2011, Arpaio’s office was sanctioned by a federal judge for its acknowledged destruction of records in a racial profiling case that protested the sheriff’s signature immigration patrols.

The latest sanctions request arose in a lawsuit by immigrant rights advocates that alleges the work-related identity theft laws are trumped by federal immigration statutes.

The request says Sgt. Dmitrius Whelan-Gonzales, the leader of the sheriff’s squad that conducted the business raids, had acknowledged destroying the notes, but added that he did so after he had transcribed them or was done with the task at hand. In a deposition, Whelan-Gonzales said he was told during the meetings that the federal form wasn’t admissible in state court.

The sheriff’s office also didn’t respond to a request for comment on behalf of Whelan-Gonzales.

The Maricopa County Attorney’s Office, which prosecuted the work-related ID theft cases, declined to comment on the sanctions request.

The ID theft laws were used in Arizona for seven years until a judge barred their enforcement in early 2015. But an appeals court reversed that decision in early May, creating an opening for authorities to enforce the laws again.

The laws 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.

Critics say the enforcement of the laws focused too much on workers and not enough on their employers. Prosecutors say the laws were effective in holding people accountable for causing hassles for victims of identity theft.

Most of the work-related ID theft cases have been brought against workers who are in the country illegally.

But prosecutors say U.S. citizens also have been prosecuted under the laws in cases unrelated to immigration status, such as wanting to conceal a worker’s criminal record from an employer.

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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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