In 2007 and 2008, Arizona passed legislation establishing heightened criminal penalties for working with a false identity.

  • House Bill 2779 (“Legal Arizona Workers Act”) created a new offense of aggravated identity theft for people using false information or the information of another person.
  • House Bill 2745 (amending LAWA) supplemented H.B. 2779 by adding the “intent to gain employment” as part of the offense.

Between 2007 and 2014, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted over 80 worksite raids, arresting and jailing more than 800 workers in and around Phoenix. MCAO charged these workers, as well as hundreds of others arrested outside of the raids, with felony identity theft and/or forgery. In total, MCAO reviewed for prosecution more than 1,800 such cases. Many of these workers also faced deportation subsequent to their convictions.

On July 18, 2014, Puente and co-plaintiffs filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the amendments to Arizona’s identity theft statutes and County officials’ enforcement of these statutes. The case alleges that portions of the statutes violate the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, because they interfere and conflict with federal law governing immigration, and also the Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection, because they appear to have been motivated by animus towards undocumented immigrants. The suit requests a permanent injunction preventing the defendants from enforcing the worker identity provisions and forgery statute against undocumented workers, and seeks to expunge the records of two plaintiffs who were victims of prosecutions under these unjust laws and continue to face harm as a result of their felony convictions.

On August 7, 2014, Plaintiffs asked the district court to enter a preliminary injunction on their facial Supremacy Clause claim.

On December 17, 2014, with the possibility of a preliminary injunction on the horizon, MCSO announced its intention to disband the Criminal Employment Unit.

On January 6, 2015, a federal district court judge granted Plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, temporarily putting a stop to the raids and felony identity theft prosecutions. The court found that the arrests and prosecutions were likely unconstitutional on their face. This was a significant victory for the immigrant community in Arizona, which had been living under a regime of intimidating raids, arrests and prosecutions for 7 years.  Nonetheless, even after the preliminary injunction was issued, MCAO continued to prosecute undocumented workers by relying on Arizona’s felony forgery statute.

On February 4, 2015, the defendants filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court’s preliminary injunction before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On July 7, 2015, Puente filed an amended complaint, adding an as-applied preemption challenge to Maricopa County officials’ use of the forgery statute, Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 13-2002, against undocumented workers, and including additional plaintiffs.

In August 2015, the National Immigration Law Center and other non-profit organizations, and Professors Doris Marie Provine and Cecilia Menjivar, filed amicus briefs in support of Puente and other plaintiffs with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On March 25, 2016, the United States filed an amicus brief largely supporting plaintiffs’ arguments that Arizona’s laws interfere with federal law.

On May 2, 2016, after hearing oral argument in the case, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the preliminary injunction and remanded the case to the District Court. The appeals court found that because the worker identity provisions were textually neutral, they could be applied to individuals other than undocumented immigrants and were likely not facially preempted. The appeals court did not disturb the district court’s other findings, and the District Court had not yet issued any decision on the as-applied preemption claim and Equal Protection Clause challenge. The appeals court returned the case to the District Court to consider those issues.

On July 1, 2016, Puente and the defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asking the district court to make a decision on the case without a trial. Summary judgment is appropriate in cases where a court finds that no essential factual issues are disputed and the case can be resolved on the law.

The plaintiffs have argued that the court can grant summary judgment to plaintiffs on the claim that the enforcement of the worker identity provisions by County authorities against immigrant workers interferes and conflicts with federal law and is therefore preempted. Regarding plaintiffs’ argument that the amendments to Arizona’s identity theft laws violate equal protection, defendants are asking the court to dismiss that claim. Plaintiffs’ object to dismissal of this claim because there is at least some evidence that the laws were passed with a discriminatory intent. Finally, plaintiffs are defending their request that the court expunge the records of the two plaintiffs who were convicted.

The primary documents filed in connection with the summary judgment briefing are:

On October 13, 2016, the District Court will hear oral argument on the parties’ summary judgment motions.