PHOENIX – Immigrant-rights advocates filed a lawsuit Wednesday challenging business raids by an Arizona sheriff’s office that have led to the arrests of hundreds of immigrant workers on charges of using fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.
The lawsuit against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio alleges immigrants living in the U.S. illegally have been singled out in such cases, while only a small number of employers have had court cases brought against them on illegal hiring allegations.
The advocates aren’t seeking money and instead are asking a federal judge to conclude that a state law banning employers from hiring immigrants living in the U.S. illegally is discriminatory and conflicts with federal law. They are seeking a court order prohibiting Arpaio from enforcing that law.
Arpaio’s office is the only police agency in the state that has raided businesses in enforcement of the employment law. It has conducted 83 business raids since the law took effect in 2008, leading to the arrests of more than 700 immigrants who were in the country illegally and three managers. Three businesses have had civil cases filed against them.
The sheriff’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
The raids are a key element of Arpaio’s signature immigration efforts. A year ago, his office was found by a federal judge to have systematically racial profiled Latinos in its regular traffic and immigration patrols. The sheriff vigorously disputes the profiling ruling and has filed an appeal.
The employment law was passed as advocates for cracking down on immigrants in the U.S. illegally sought to target employers, who are blamed with fueling the nation’s border woes.
The lawsuit says the Arizona Legislature acted in a discriminatory fashion when it changed identity-theft laws to include workers who use fake or stolen IDs to get jobs.
Supporters of the raids say the law has helped combat identity theft and that the fear of raids has caused employers to follow the rules. The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the law after business groups challenged it several years ago.
Immigrant workers arrested on ID theft charges spend months in jail without the chance of getting a bond set, because a 2006 voter-approved law denies bail to people who are in the country illegally and charged with felony offences, from shoplifting and aggravated identity theft to murder and sexual assault.
Immigrants desperate to earn money to support their families often plead guilty to felony charges to get out of jail, walking away with time served but often facing deportation and unable to ever again enter the U.S. legally, their lawyers have said.
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of two women arrested in the raids, seeks class-action status that would let other immigrant workers join the lawsuit.
© The Canadian Press, 2014