Arizona judge hears arguments in suit seeking to end workplace raids

A federal judge in Arizona heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to end workplace raids that have resulted in hundreds of immigrant workers…

Immigrant rights advocates advocates say two identity theft laws the Arizona State Legislature approved several years ago have led to dozens of workplace raids in which hundreds of undocumented immigrants have been arrested. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

A federal judge in Arizona heard arguments Thursday in a lawsuit that seeks to end workplace raids that have resulted in hundreds of immigrant workers getting arrested over the last few years.

The lawsuit was brought forward by Puente Arizona, a local immigrant rights organization. It challenges two identity theft state laws approved in 2007 and 2008. The laws make it a new crime to use the information of another person, including a real or fictitious person, with the intent to get or keep employment.

SEE ALSO: Obama administration challenges Arizona’s driver’s license ban

The plaintiffs argue Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County Attorney Montgomery have been using these laws as their legal foundation to carry out workplace raids that target undocumented workers. Since 2008, Arpaio’s deputies have conducted 83 operations and arrested 782 people charged with forgery and identity theft.

On Thursday, the plaintiffs asked U.S. District Judge David Campbell to issue a preliminary injunction to prohibit Arpaio’s office and prosecutors from enforcing the two identity theft laws while the lawsuit is pending in court.

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs argued during Thursday’s court hearing that the laws are unconstitutional and are preempted by federal law. They also claimed that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office use the identity theft laws to carry out a campaign of workplace raids that are causing “irreparable harm” on plaintiffs and immigrants in Arizona.

“We have tried to stop the raids and counteract the suffering they cause by fighting individual cases, protesting Arpaio and Montgomery’s actions, and bringing to light their impact on children, families, and workers,” stated Carlos Garcia, director of Puente Arizona. “Because we can’t wait any longer for the raids to stop, we are turning to the courts in the hopes that justice will finally prevail.”

Attorneys representing the defendants argued Thursday that the purpose of the identity theft laws is not to target undocumented workers. Instead, they said the laws are meant to combat the serious problem of identity theft in the state. In addition, they said the language of the laws is “completely neutral” and doesn’t make any mention of immigration or undocumented immigrants.

SEE ALSO: Immigration advocates say ICE is ramping up home raids

But attorneys representing the plaintiffs disputed that argument, saying there’s evidence that shows the legislatures who supported the laws wanted them approved to go after undocumented immigrants.

They pointed to past statements made by lead supporters, including then-Arizona House Rep. Russell Pearce who said the laws were necessary because “the feds have not done their job” to combat illegal immigration which he said threatened the “destruction of our country.”

The defendants’ attorneys also took aim at Puente Arizona, saying the group had not done a good job of explaining how the identity theft laws affected their members and why the preliminary injunction was needed. They also questioned why the group took so long to file the lawsuit given that the state laws were approved in 2007 and 2008.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys responded by saying that Puente Arizona members have been “pressing the issue for years” but that they hadn’t filed the lawsuit because they didn’t have the funds to hire attorneys to represent them in court.