Past Employment May Harm DACA Status

Feb 15, 2017

A case pending before the Iowa Supreme Court could result in the deportation of many immigrants who currently have legal status. It considers whether Muscatine County is interfering with federal immigration policy by prosecuting a woman for identity fraud and forgery.

Martha Martinez of Muscatine County came to the U.S. as an undocumented immigrant from Guadalupe, Mexico in 1997 when she was 11 years old. In 2013, she became a legal resident thanks to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA.

So far the Trump Administration has allowed this Obama-era policy to remain.   

DACA gives people like Martinez, who came to the country as children, temporary residency provided they haven’t committed any felonies. But prior to DACA, Martinez used the documents of a California-born woman to gain employment, which is  against Iowa law.

Possibly thousands of DACA recipients have committed this type of crime, lying about their identity to get a job. One of those people is a woman named Monica, who now lives in Des Moines after coming to the U.S. from Mexico as a toddler.

We agreed not to use Monica’s last name because she fears legal consequences. She says she used another person's identity to get a job during a period of extreme financial hardship.

"We would go to the food pantry because we just didn’t have money, we lived desperately," Monica says. "You want to get ahead in some way, and documentation is the only thing that you’re missing,"  

DACA was a godsend for Monica. The ACLU of Iowa is trying to help Martha Martinez keep her DACA and avoid prosecution because this case will impact countless others.

The civil liberties organization argues that the employment of immigrants is strictly the jurisdiction of the federal government. ACLU attorney Rita Bettis says to allow Muscatine County to prosecute Martinez is tantamount to allowing all 3,000-plus counties in the U.S. to each create individual immigration policies.

"That’s because we recognize, and historically have long recognized, that we need to speak with one voice when it comes to foreign policy, when it comes to international affairs, when it comes to the regulation of immigrants," says Bettis. "The employment of immigrants falls within that category."

Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren brought this prosecution. He says the case is a result of DACA being a poorly written policy. Though Ostergren understands why people are sympathetic to Martinez’s situation, he says identity fraud is a serious crime.

"You know we’ve had situations where we contacted by somebody who says, 'You know what I can’t get my commercial driver’s license renewed because I have an unpaid traffic ticket from Muscatine. Or the records say that I got an operating while intoxicated conviction in Iowa. I’ve never been to Iowa.' Now, those are real victims," he says.

What many of the people I spoke to this story found most upsetting is that Martha Martinez was caught because she was taking active steps to live within the law.

Her fraud was discovered, after she had gone to the DMV to get a driver’s license under her real name. which she now was using thanks to DACA. Facial recognition software found that Martinez already had a license under a different name.

While the statute of limitations had expired on identity fraud for the ID, it hadn’t expired for the employment charges. Monica says the whole situation feels like a betrayal.

"So to think that any past employment, any past wanting to get ahead and help the family, be able to pay for our schooling, be able to pay for our bills, being able to provide for the family, could back fire on us, like it has for Marta. I mean, it’s like we’re cornered."

Now it’s up to the state Supreme Court to determine if the prosecution can go forward. A ruling expected by this summer, if not sooner.

But President Donald Trump may still revoke DACA, and none of this will matter. Trump told ABC News last month he’ll be coming out with a policy soon, and also that he has “a big heart.”