WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) — The U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that will determine whether states have the power to prosecute undocumented immigrants for identity theft.
In Kansas v. Garcia, the state of Kansas is asking the justices to uphold its prosecution of three people in the country illegally for identity theft. The justices are being asked to define where to draw the line between state and federal enforcement.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt argued that the specific federal documents filled out by the defendants aren’t protected under federal law, which would allow for state-level prosecution.
“Kansas isn’t targeting undocumented workers. Kansas is trying to enforce its identity theft laws that apply against everybody,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt says his state is simply trying to protect its citizens. He thinks states should be able to crack down on these types of crimes.
“It’s a very large problem and states need to be part of the solution and that’s what we’re trying to make sure happens here,” Schmidt said.
In court filings, a dozen states including Texas, Ohio and Indiana have supported that position.
Immigration advocates fear that if the justices side with Kansas, it will open the floodgates for states to target noncitizens.
Paul Hughes is representing the three undocumented immigrants, who authorities say used stolen social security numbers to get jobs in Kansas. He told the justices that the state of Kansas doesn’t have the authority to charge the workers with identity theft. He says it’s a federal crime.
“Whether or not states can adopt, or own immigration policies is a substantially important question that’s at issue here,” Hughes said. “This case was truly an immigration case.”
The Kansas Supreme Court agreed and ruled that the state couldn’t charge undocumented workers with identity theft when applying for a job.
During oral arguments Wednesday, it was clear the justices on both sides of the ideological spectrum weren’t necessarily moved by either side’s argument. Justice Neil Gorsuch even went so far as to joke the case should be dismissed.
If the Supreme Court goes that route, the lower court’s decision upholding federal law would stand.
A decision will come down by the end of the spring session.