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Supreme Court Rules Against Undocumented Workers in Kansas Stolen Identity Case

“If the Supreme Court rules that the federal government no longer has sole responsibility for regulating immigration, lower courts may uphold pro-immigrant or sanctuary or noncooperation policies enacted by states and localities.”

The US Supreme Court ruled against undocumented immigrants in Kansas on Tuesday. The case of Kansas v. Garcia was taken up by the nation’s highest court after the Kansas Supreme Court discarded a conviction of Ramiro Garcia and two other undocumented workers. The 5-4 ruling in favor of the state is considered a win for the Trump administration, which supported the convictions, and could give further leeway for states to prosecute illegal workers in the future.

The central issue the court ruled on was whether the state could convict Garcia of identify theft, or if federal immigration law prevents states from prosecuting cases such as Garcia’s. The three restaurant workers used fake or stolen social security numbers on their tax and work authorization forms, Brent Kendall reported for The Wall Street Journal.

No Preemption

Lawyers for Garcia had successfully argued in the Kansas Supreme Court that information provided on federal work authorization forms could not be used to prosecute state crimes. US Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito and the four other conservative justices disagreed.

“In the present cases, there is certainly no suggestion that the Kansas prosecutions frustrated any federal interests,” Alito wrote in the majority opinion.

The defense team for Garcia seemed to grasp at straws, trying to loophole its way to freedom. They turned to the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, claiming it preempted state laws. The law governs the employment of undocumented workers, placing the onus of verifying work eligibility on the employer based on documents provided by the worker. 

An attorney for Garcia decided to make the case a question of immigration policy, as if State of Kansas laws were somehow contradicting Washington. 

“While Kansas may prosecute a wide range of offenses,” a defense lawyer for Garcia said. “What Kansas might not do is have its own individual immigration policy and immigration offenses.”

‘Defies Common Sense’

Although the state’s highest court agreed with him, the US Supreme Court saw flaws in the logic. Firstly, the initial conviction in Kansas was not based on the state writing “its own immigration policy.” It was a simple matter of prosecuting identify theft crimes and the state likely would prosecute any individual—undocumented, documented, or citizen—the same, indiscriminate way.

“We aren’t targeting folks because of their status,” an attorney for the state declared. “We are enforcing our employment identity theft laws, and we don’t want to give special exception to people because of their status.”

Secondly, as the federal government argued in briefs provided to the court, there was no conflict between state and federal laws. Furthermore, the Kansas Supreme Court missed the fact that state attorneys did not even need to use the federal forms as evidence to begin with—the undocumented workers provided the same information on their state tax withholding forms.

Attorneys for Kansas argued the lower court opinion “defies common sense,” and after looking at the facts, the Supreme Court agreed.

Empowering States

Even so, liberal justices and legal experts have not refrained from extrapolating the effects of the ruling on potential future cases. While the Supreme Court cracked open the door for states to use evidence on federal forms to prosecute undocumented workers, the ruling could also empower states to defend sanctuary laws. 

“What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander,” wrote Stephen Yale-Loehr, immigration professor at Cornell Law School. “If the Supreme Court rules that the federal government no longer has sole responsibility for regulating immigration, lower courts may uphold pro-immigrant or sanctuary or noncooperation policies enacted by states and localities.”

Other legal experts agreed, according to CNN, with a group writing, “Allowing the State to impose additional and different penalties—including those with immigration consequences — is thus in conflict with the federal enforcement scheme.”

However, what defenders are possibly overlooking is that the primary matter in the initial case in Kansas was not over immigration. The state had not charged them or their employer for immigration crimes, but simply identity theft. While it is true that the Immigration Reform and Control Act delegated power to Washington to prosecute crimes of illegal employment,  

“Kansas law,” Alito wrote, “makes it a crime to commit “identity theft” or engage in fraud to obtain a benefit. Respondents—three aliens who are not authorized to work in this country—were convicted under these provisions…”

Precedent has now been set for other states to use data provided on federal tax forms to prosecute similar crimes. However, as in the case of Garcia, if an immigrant is using false information on federal forms, they are likely doing the same with state documents. Therefore, the Supreme Court ruling may add minimal practical benefits to what already existed.

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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