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US Supreme Court to consider state role in prosecuting immigrants

Published:Monday | October 14, 2019 | 12:33 PM
Donaldo Morales (right) and his wife Isleen Gimenez Morales pose for a photograph at an attorney's office in Kansas City, Missouri Tuesday, September 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

WICHITA, Kansas (AP) — Donaldo Morales caught a break when federal prosecutors declined to charge him after he was arrested for using a fake Social Security card so he could work at a Kansas restaurant.

But the break was short-lived.

Kansas authorities stepped in and obtained a state conviction that could lead to Morales’s deportation.

A state appellate court overturned the conviction, but Kansas appealed.

On Wednesday, the US Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether states can prosecute immigrants like Morales who use other people’s Social Security numbers to get a job.

Morales, who plans to attend the arguments with his wife and a son, said he has been having nightmares about being deported.

His greatest fear is leaving behind his wife and children if the Supreme Court reinstates his state convictions — felonies that could trigger deportation proceedings.

The case before the nation’s highest court arises from three prosecutions in Johnson County, a largely suburban area outside Kansas City, Missouri, where the district attorney has aggressively pursued immigrants under the Kansas identity theft and false-information statutes.

The Kansas Supreme Court overturned the convictions of Morales as well as Mexican immigrants Ramiro Garcia and Guadalupe Ochoa-Lara after concluding the state was seeking to punish immigrants who used fake IDs to obtain jobs.

It ruled that the federal government has exclusive authority to determine whether an immigrant is authorised to work in the United States. Kansas then appealed.

The Trump administration has filed a brief supporting Kansas, arguing that federal law does not prohibit the prosecution of immigrants for violating identity theft laws and contending that protection against fraud is among the oldest state powers.

That approach marks a shift from that of the Obama administration.

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