Court Rules States Can Impose Their Own Penalties on Immigrants who Commit Identity Theft


Tough penalties imposed on undocumented immigrants in Arizona have been upheld in a federal court in a case that appears to give the green light to states to impose their own sanctions on those engaged in identity theft.

The ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in May is seen as another victory for the hardline approach of Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona who has pioneered new ways to punish illegal immigrants. The hardline approach of Arpaio was recently profiled in Rolling Stone magazine.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that while there are still some questions about how prosecutors and police interpret Arizona’s identity theft laws, they do not appear to violate the Constitution, or impede the powers of the federal government to set its national immigration policies.

The Los Angeles Times reported that Arpaio’s identity theft law “stretched the crime of identity theft to include everyone from forgers to people simply seeking employment without valid documentation.”

person wit questionmark over their head

The Washington Times reported that the judges in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled Arizona’s laws are acceptable as long as they apply to everyone. That means they include U.S. citizens and it’s, therefore, immaterial if the legislature intended them to be used as a way to attack one of the symptoms of illegal immigration, namely identity theft.

The decision raises the prospect that other states that have taken an uncompromising line on immigrants in the past, such as Texas, may bring in their own set of hardline, Arizona-style laws.

The unanimous U.S. Court of Appeals decision was written by Circuit Judge Richard C. Tallman, who stated:

“In this case, Arizona exercised its police powers to pass criminal laws that apply equally to unauthorized aliens, authorized aliens, and U.S. citizens. Just because some applications of those laws implicate federal immigration priorities does not mean that the statute as a whole should be struck down.”

The law is just the latest piece of legislation in Arizona that’s tough on immigrants. Others include:

Requiring Businesses to Use E-Verify

The E-Verify program allows employers to check the work authorization of employees. It’s mandatory for businesses to use it in Arizona. The move to force businesses to use it was upheld by the Supreme Court.

SB 1070

Arizona brought in stiffer penalties for illegal immigrants for crimes but the Supreme Court struck these down. However, the justices upheld a section of the legislation that mandates police to check the legal status of people they encounter in their regular line of work, if they suspect they are in the United States illegally. The ACLU complained that most of the people who were checked followed routine traffic stops or other minor infractions.

Arizona brought in changes to the state’s identity theft laws eight years ago. They are intended to punish anyone with a false identity or a fake social security number who is seeking employment in Arizona.

While Texas has a conservative leadership like Arizona, it has not followed Arizona in enacting hardline anti-immigrant laws to the same degree.

In 2010, former governor Rick Perry said Arizona’s tough immigration stance would not be right for Texas. He said Texas has a long held tradition of rejecting harsh anti-immigration laws. Austin became a majority minority city back in 2005. Its undocumented immigrants live in fear of deportation and hope for reform of the immigration laws, rather than harsher legislation being enacted.

Our Austin immigration attorneys have helped hundreds of undocumented immigrants as well as those accused of identity theft. If you fear deportation or are facing criminal charges, call Peek Law Group today for help at (512) 399-2311.

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