Victory! Supreme Court Upholds State ID Theft Prosecutions

Press Releases

March 3, 2020

Updated: Mar 5

High Court agrees with IRLI’s analysis

WASHINGTON—Today, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling that permits state prosecutions of aliens not authorized to work in the United States, including illegal aliens who use stolen Social Security numbers to gain employment. The ruling empowers states to combat the widespread identity theft that comes with illegal immigration.

In a bizarre ruling two years ago, the Kansas Supreme Court threw out the convictions of three aliens for identity theft under Kansas state law, finding the prosecutions of these aliens “expressly preempted” by federal law.

The Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI) filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court urging the Court to reverse that decision. In its brief, IRLI pointed out that Kansas’s law reduces illegal alien employment, and therefore advances the federal government’s goals rather than subverts them. Also, in response to the argument that a future administration might wish to lessen enforcement of laws against hiring illegal aliens, and state identity theft prosecutions would interfere with that goal, IRLI pointed out that only federal law, not shifting federal enforcement priorities, can preempt state law. To quote IRLI’s brief:

“Even if an administration wished to reduce compliance with the federal law against the employment of illegal aliens, and thus made enforcing that law a low priority, that alone would not preempt states from pursuing the spurned congressional objective by enforcing their own identity theft laws.”

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, holding that there is nothing in federal immigration law that prohibits states from prosecuting aliens who use fake or stolen identification. “In the end, however, the possibility that federal enforcement priorities might be upset is not enough to provide a basis for preemption,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion. “The Supremacy Clause gives priority to ‘the laws of the United States,’ not the criminal law enforcement priorities or preferences of federal officers.”

“This ruling provides much-needed clarification on how preemption works in immigration law,” said Dale L. Wilcox, executive director and general counsel of IRLI. “While sanctuary laws violate the Supremacy Clause because they block federal enforcement, there is no violation when state actions advance federal purposes. The Court was correct to recognize that though states may not hinder, they are free to help.”

The case is State of Kansas v. Garcia, No. 17-834 (Supreme Court).

For additional information, contact:

Brian Lonergan • 202-232-5590 • [email protected]

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