A Muscatine woman argued at the Iowa Supreme Court that since the employment of immigrants is regulated by the federal government, she’s protected from state identity theft charges. How the high court rules has significant implications for Iowa's undocumented immigrant community.
In 1997, 11-year-old Martha Martinez came to the US as an undocumented immigrant. In 2014 she was charged with using a fake identity to gain employment.
Rita Bettis of the Iowa ACLU argues that Martinez can’t face state charges because only the federal government regulates employment of immigrants.
"Congress needs to speak with one voice and not 50 state voices, and not 3,000 county voices when it comes to foreign policy and these delicate international humanitarian concerns," says Bettis.
Ironically, Martinez’s deception was discovered when she went to obtain a legitimate ID thanks to the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival executive action. DACA is designed to allow people like Martinez who came to the country as children to legally find employment.
So because Martinez was attempting work legally through DACA, she may end up being deported. The executive action excludes people who have committed felonies, so anyone convicted of using a fake identity is precluded.
"The fear [of] this type of criminal prosecution is really spreading throughout the immigration community in Iowa already," says Bettis.
But Assistant Attorney General Darrel Mullins says while it may seem harsh, local prosecutors must enforce the law.
"It doesn’t hold much water to say the state can only prosecute United States citizens,” Mullins told the justices.
Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren, who attended oral arguments, adds that Martinez’s argument presents many practical concerns.
"I don’t have access to some big list to who’s a US citizen and who’s not," says Ostergren. "So if we would have to have affirmative prove that a person is a US citizen in order to prosecute them for identity theft, I don’t know how we could do that."
How the court decides this case will affect the lives of thousands of Iowans. It also threatens DACA for people in other states.