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Iowa High Court Rules to Defer Deportation of Immigrant Charged with Identify Theft

gavel-1017953_640-300x200Iowa’s high court recently ruled 4-3 against continuing the prosecution of a DACA-protected immigrant charged with forgery and identity fraud.

Martha Martinez is a mother of four who’s lived in the country since she arrived without documentation several years ago. To provide for her children, Martinez worked at a food service sanitation company in Muscatine County, Iowa.

However, acquiring employment required that she break a few laws in the process.

In applying for her work, Martinez used a fake name and another person’s Social Security number. She also used the same information to apply for and obtain her Iowa driver’s license.

Martinez was eventually caught when facial recognition technology registered matched her face to that of one Diana Castaneda—the name on her previous driver’s license. When confronted by authorities, she confessed that she was, in fact, working in the U.S. using a false ID and someone else’s Social Security number. Her charges for fraud and forgery came shortly after.

According to federal immigration law, either charge could result in her immediate deportation. However, the circumstances of her entry into the country grant her protection from removal.

Martinez arrived in the U.S. along with her parents at the age of 11, making her eligible for protected and temporary lawful immigration status under the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Act.

This called to question how both the courts and immigration enforcement would handle the situation.
The first answer came from the federal court, ruling that Martinez’s prosecution by the state of Iowa should not be preempted by federal immigration law.

The Iowa Supreme Court disagreed, however, reversing the decision Friday in an evidently partisan 4-3 vote; the majority comprised of 3 Democratic and 1 Republican appointee.

Writing on behalf of the majority behind the ruling, Justice Brent Appel explains, “The Iowa identity theft statute is preempted to the extent it regulates fraud committed to allow an unauthorized alien to work in the United States in violation of federal immigration law.”

He continues to point out that authority to regulate immigration law—including the employment of illegal immigrants—is exclusive to the federal government.

Nonetheless, Justice Appel expects that “federal authorities in this case appear to be willing to defer any potential federal immigration action on equitable and humanitarian grounds.”

“Martinez came to the United States as a child, an illegal entry for which she is not personally responsible. She was educated in Iowa, has no criminal record, is a productive member of the community, and now has four children who are citizens of the United States. … Federal enforcement officials might well weight the fact that a mother would be separated from her four children who are United States citizens as a very undesirable result,” he adds.

The dissenting justices lament the ruling, explaining that “the majority’s ruling will apply to all unauthorized aliens who use a false identity to work in this state, whether they are as sympathetic as Martinez or not.”

If you, or a loved one, are under DACA status and want to learn more about your rights, contact the legal team of the Lyttle Law Firm today. Call our offices to schedule a consultation with Austin immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle.