WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court made it easier Tuesday for states to prosecute immigrants who use fake Social Security numbers to get a job.
The issue for the court was whether states could pursue the immigrants in court or had to leave those choices to the federal government, which typically has authority over immigration.
The court ruled 5-4, with conservatives in the majority, that nothing in federal immigration law prevents states from going after immigrants who use phony documents and numbers.
The Kansas Supreme Court had ruled that the federal government has exclusive authority to determine whether an immigrant may work in the United States. It threw out state convictions for three immigrants, but the high court reversed the state ruling, in an opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito. “The mere fact that state laws like the Kansas provisions at issue overlap to some degree with federal criminal provisions does not even begin to make a case for” the state having to forgo prosecution, Alito wrote.
Previous Supreme Court Ruling Limited State Prosecution
Kansas prosecuted the cases at issue by relying on information that is on a required federal work authorization form, the I-9. Kansas was backed by the Trump administration and 12 states in arguing that it can prosecute because the same information also appears on state work forms.
In 2012, the court ruled that portions of an Arizona law targeting immigrants without proper legal documents could not be enforced because federal law trumps state measures in the area of immigration. The three immigrants in the Kansas case contended that the high court’s Arizona decision should have determined the outcome in their situation.
In a dissent for the four liberal members of the court, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that federal law “makes clear that only the federal government may prosecute people for misrepresenting their federal work-authorization status.”
The case is Kansas v. Garcia, 17-834.