Immigrant rights advocates filed a class-action lawsuit Wednesday challenging state laws that allow Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio to conduct workplace raids to go after immigrants using false documents to work.
The lawsuit, Puente Arizona v. Arpaio, was filed in the U.S. District Court in Phoenix. The plaintiffs include Puente Arizona, an organization that has long criticized Arpaios immigration enforcement, and two undocumented workers who were arrested during raids conducted by MCSO deputies last year.
Our boss always told us that he would call the Sheriff if any of us complained about the extra hours that he forced us to work without pay, Sara Cervantes Arreola, a plaintiff in the case and Glendale mother who was arrested during a raid on Lams Supermarket last year, said in a statement.
Fear of a raid kept us silent but then it happened anyways, she added. Im part of the suit because working to provide for my family is not a crime and I want my record cleared.
Cervantes and the other plaintiffs contend that Maricopa Countys enforcement of the two state laws theyre challenging turn immigrants into felons simply for working to provide for their families.
One of the two state laws makes it a felony to use the identity of another person, including a real or fictitious person, in order to work. The other one punishes employers who knowingly hire undocumented immigrants. Both laws were signed by then-Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2007 and 2008.
Plaintiffs want Arpaio to stop conducting raids
The plaintiffs contend in the lawsuit that ever since the state laws went into effect, Arpaios office has used them to carry out a campaign of workplace raids targeting undocumented immigrants. They also note that since 2008, Arpaio and his deputies have conducted more than 80 workplace raids, which have led to the arrest of about 790 workers.
Their enforcement campaign has separated breadwinners from their families, suppressed workers rights, eroded the social fabric of the community, and ultimately harmed many U.S. citizens as well as immigrants, the plaintiffs state in the lawsuit.
Ultimately, the plaintiffs want a federal judge to issue a permanent injunction to prevent Arpaio and his deputies from conducting more raids.
Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, who is one of the defendants listed in the lawsuit, released a statement Wednesday reacting to the lawsuit. He stated, in part:
In terms of the enforcement of Arizonas identify theft and aggravated identity theft statutes, there is no element in these statutes that criminalizes working to provide for a family. Such a characterization is political, rhetorical and inaccurate and seeks to take advantage of a period of time when our nation is striving to address a whole range of issues dealing with immigration and illegal immigration under increasingly dire circumstances.
Montgomery also reacted to Arreolas statement over how her employer threatened to call Arpaios office if she or others complained about their work conditions.
He said: I personally have made it clear to immigrant rights activists, immigration attorneys and criminal defense attorneys who handle matters on behalf of clients in this particular area that if people have information related to the abuse of fellow human beings by threatening them with immigration consequences to keep them quiet about substandard employment conditions or conditions in which slave labor is occurring, I want that information so that I can hold these employers criminally responsible.
Arpaio and his deputies conducted their 83rd workplace raid on June 13 at several Arizona Department of Transportation buildings in Phoenix. The raid resulted in the arrest of 10 people employed through a cleaning company. They face charges of forgery. The manager, who is a U.S. citizen, was also arrested and charged with a class 2 felony for trafficking in identity theft.
Forgery and the use of fake identifications is a serious crime which creates serious security issues, especially when a government establishment is infiltrated by people with fraudulent identifications, Arpaio said in a statement following the raid.
Arpaios office did not immediately respond to a request for comment by VOXXI about the lawsuit.