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Supreme Court rules federal immigration law does not preempt state prosecution for identity theft
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Supreme Court rules federal immigration law does not preempt state prosecution for identity theft

The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Tuesday in Kansas v. Garcia that federal immigration law does not preempt a state prosecution for identity theft.

Ramiro Garcia, Donaldo Morales and Guadalupe Ochoa-Lara were all found to have used someone else’s social security number to qualify employment and/or housing. The state of Kansas utilized the I-9 form to charge the three with the state crime of identity theft.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) requires that employers verify that new employees are not unauthorized aliens. This process is accomplished through the completion of the federal work-authorization form (I-9). The forms require the employee to provide certain information, such as the employee’s email address, telephone number, birth date and social security number.

All three respondents in these cases argued that IRCA preempted their prosecutions. The argument was based on 8 USC §1324a(b)(5), which states that “I–9 forms and ‘any information contained in or appended to such form[s] may not be used for purposes other than for enforcement of’ the INA or other listed federal statutes.”

The state ultimately dismissed the charges that involved the I-9 forms for that reason, but proceeded to prosecute based on the information stipulated in the respondents’ K-4s and W-4s, which contained the same false social security numbers as the I-9 forms. Although the state succeed in its case in the trial court, and the appellate court affirmed, the Kansas Supreme Court determined that the information in the I-9 documents was prohibited. Although that same information appeared in other documents, the Kansas Supreme Court ruled that the information, regardless of where it may otherwise appear, is ultimately considered to be “contained” in the I-9 forms, and thus, barred from use for prosecuting a state crime.

However, the US Supreme Court found the Kansas Supreme Court’s definition of “contained” to be inaccurate, as the application of the word “contained” would be too broad. Ultimately, the US Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Kansas Supreme Court. Justice Samuel Alito, delivering the decision for the majority, stated that, “the mere fact that an I–9 contains an item of information, such as a name or address, does not mean that information ‘contained in’ the I–9 is used whenever that name or address is later employed.”