PHOENIX -- Earlier this month, Maricopa County Sheriff's deputies carried out their latest crackdown on unauthorized immigrant labor just blocks from KJZZ's station in Tempe where I work.
Twenty-seven workers were arrested at the manufacturing site for Sportex Apparel, just north of the intersection of 52nd Street and University Drive in Tempe.
The majority of arrested workers were allegedly working under fake identities.
Since unauthorized immigrants are not permitted to work, many do so by using fake documents or made up Social Security Numbers in the hiring process. The latter is now more difficult to pull off in Arizona, because state law requires employers to cross-check the names and Social Security Numbers of new hires on E-Verify, a federal database.
Since 2008, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has arrested hundreds of people during these worksite enforcement operations. Upward of 500 have been charged with identity theft charges.
As I reported in January, the typical criminal charges used in these cases -- forgery and taking the identity of another -- are both Class 4 felony offenses. In Arizona, immigrant defendants who are suspected of being in the country illegally are ineligible for bond if they are charged with Class 4 felonies or higher. Plus, the criminal charge also comes with the consequence that if convicted, these defendants will be ineligible for federal immigration benefits and will likely be deported.
At a press conference last week, a number of immigrant-rights advocates called on Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to treat these cases the same way young people who use fake IDs to buy alcohol are prosecuted. Those underage bar hoppers who use fake IDs can be charged with a misdemeanor, but recent media reports on the topic mentioned they are typically offered the opportunity to expunge any record of the offense through a diversion program.
"Why should a kid looking to get drunk be protected when a person who is simply trying to provide for his family not?”" said Lydia Guzman of the League of United Latin American Citizens in a press release.
Montgomery's office was quoted by the Arizona Republic as calling this argument "irresponsible." The state criminal statute for identity theft states that it cannot be applied to young people under age 21 who violate the section of the law on underage access to alcohol and use of fake IDs.
Montgomery has continued to reiterate to media that cracking down on people who use fake identities or documents to work is important for combating identity theft in the state.
Meanwhile, advocates maintain these immigrant defendants could be charged with less severe charges that would not trigger deportation.
Recently, however, one immigrant worker beat the identity theft charges against him.
Rafael Lavallade Gonzalez, who was arrested in August at a worksite raid at a GNC warehouse, was found not guilty by a jury earlier this month, as reported by the Phoenix New Times. He originally faced three counts of forgery and one count of identity theft, all Class 4 felonies.