In a story you might have missed as coronavirus dominates the headlines, the U.S. Supreme Court gave states broader authority to use criminal laws against illegal immigrants and others without work authorization in the country in a ruling related to identity theft prosecutions in Kansas in March.
The 5-4 ruling overturned a decision by the Kansas Supreme Court in 2017 that voided the convictions of a trio of restaurant employees who fraudulently used social security numbers that did not belong to them. The Kansas Supreme Court had concluded that the federal immigration laws preempted the state from enforcing Kansas criminal law on the grounds that the false social security numbers had also been used on federal I-9 forms for employment verification.
The three men did not have authorization to work in the country.
The Supreme Court’s conservative justices were in the majority, and Justice Samuel Alito wrote the opinion, which states that Kansas did not unlawfully encroach upon federal authority regarding immigration policy. The dissent, which was penned by Justice Stephen Breyer, said that the federal government alone is in charge of policing work authorization fraud.
Immigration-related employment fraud may be a federal matter at its heart, but Kansas maintained that the prosecutions were not related to immigration and didn’t conflict with federal immigration laws. The state also argued that a ruling favoring the immigrants could undermine its ability to fight identity theft.
This particular case was focused on the employment verification process that falls under federal immigration laws requiring employers to attest that a worker is authorized to work in the country on an I-9 form. Prosecution related to I-9 fraud falls under the sole authority of the federal government, but the state prosecuted the men for using the same false information that appeared on their I-9s on other forms that are used for withholding wages for tax purposes.
Justice Alito wrote in the ruling that the tax withholding forms are ”fundamentally unrelated to the federal employment verification system.” He noted that the forms may be completed at the same time, but the tax withholding forms serve a different function.
The ruling essentially gives states a bit of leeway when it comes to law enforcement related to illegal immigrants. States can now convict illegal aliens of identity theft without interfering with federal immigration laws.
This ruling could help states that wish to be more active when it comes to immigration enforcement by making it easier for them to use identity laws to target undocumented workers.
Justice Breyer wrote in his dissent that “people hoping to hide their federal work-authorization status from their employer will put the same false information on their tax withholding forms as they do on their I-9.” Therefore, states being allowed to prosecute people for lying on their tax withholding forms is essentially letting them police their I-9s, which he says is expressly forbidden by federal law.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt stated that the decision means Kansas can continue to enforce state identity theft laws without considering the offender’s immigration or employment status. He said: “Congress never intended to block Kansas from prosecuting people who falsify tax forms or private legal documents merely because the defendant also falsified federal employment verification forms.”
The ruling makes sense; you can’t allow illegal immigrants to avoid criminal charges for lying on tax forms simply because they also lied on their I-9. If anything, that would only encourage even more fraud. The ruling means states have more power to fight the widespread identity theft that is often part and parcel of illegal immigration. We’re talking about people who stole someone else’s social security number to get a job when they were not authorized to work in the country in the first place, and it’s ridiculous to suggest they shouldn’t be held accountable because they are illegal immigrants who also lied on a federal form.
Sources for this article include: