Immigration Status No Longer Cause for Arrest

This was an historic week for immigration reform, especially in Illinois and Arizona. For many of the people who come to the United States, it can be difficult to find work, especially when facing the ever-present fear of arrest and deportation. But with assistance from an Arizona district judge and the Governor of Illinois, immigrants in those states can breathe a little easier.

In 2007 and 2008, the state of Arizona stretched the legal definition of identity theft to include people who attempt to gain employment while in the country illegally, in spite of the fact that federal law states that it is not illegal for an immigrant in the United States to apply for a job. The Maricopa County sheriff’s department was using the new state law as an excuse to conduct workplace raids, charging nearly 800 people with felonious crime since 2008.

This week, when a coalition of immigration rights organizations pressed a lawsuit against Sheriff Arpaio, Maricopa County, and the State of Arizona, they prevailed. District Judge David G. Campbell ordered that the Arizona law conflicts with existing federal statutes, and demanded that law enforcement agencies immediately cease to enforce any identity theft laws that penalize immigrants for seeking employment.

Maricopa County tried to argue that the identity theft laws apply equally to citizens and non-citizens alike, but this statement conflicted with one of the county’s own news reports about the arrests. According to the Maricopa County news release, all of the people charged with identity theft to gain employment were illegally living in the country.

“Plaintiffs have shown that they are likely to succeed on the merits, that they are likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of a preliminary injunction, and that the balance of equities and public interest favor an injunction,” Campbell told the LA Times.

Susan Cho Figenshau sees the decision as helpful for employers as well as individual plaintiffs. “Employer regulatory compliance relative to immigration has been getting increasingly burdensome and increasingly risky. While all corporate citizens have an obligation to conduct business in an ethical manner, employers are not law enforcement agencies, and the decision helps stop the ever-increasing burden on employers.”

Meanwhile, in Illinois, Governor Pat Quinn signed an executive order forbidding the Illinois State Police to detain a person based on immigration status alone.

The detainment of persons based exclusively on immigration status hinders law enforcement cooperation of immigrants who are victims of or witnesses to crime, due to fear of deportation. The order currently only applies to state troopers and conservation police, but the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights told Peoria Public Radio that expansion to cover other law enforcement agencies is a goal for the coming year. Police will also receive cultural sensitivity training.

Governor Quinn also signed a second executive order in an attempt to help immigrants applying for temporary legal status to get reprieve from deportation. Called the “New Americans Welcoming Initiative,” this order requires state agencies to provide immigrants with necessary information regarding obtaining the records needed to apply for the temporary status. Under the New Americans Welcoming Initiative, the approximate 4% of Illinois population who need to will be able to work with the Department of Labor to obtain work permits and other necessary documentation.

“These executive orders fairly reflect most Americans’ priorities. That is, most law-abiding Americans recognize law enforcement agencies’ resources and personnel are limited. They would want enforcement of technical immigration violations to be conducted in the context of priorities and risk of harm.”

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