Arguing that Arizona's controversial identity theft laws were used against U.S. citizens as well as immigrants who use false identities to get jobs, a federal appeals court on Monday ordered the ordinances to go back into effect.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out an order that stopped the state from enforcing the laws.
The ruling will not immediately go into effect while the plaintiffs consider an appeal to a larger 9th Circuit panel, said Jessica Vosburgh, an attorney for the plaintiffs.
The laws are part of a package of measures approved in 2007 and 2008 that aimed to confront employers who hire immigrants who are in the country illegally. The package has been criticized as focusing too heavily on workers and too little on employers, leading to hundreds of criminal cases against immigrant workers while targeting only a handful of employers.
A lower-court judge had said immigrant-rights advocates were likely to succeed in claiming federal immigration law trumped the ID measures.
But the 9th Circuit said authorities also use the laws to go after citizens, not just immigrants, so federal immigration law is not always a factor. As a result, the three-judge panel said the laws cannot be blocked in their entirety.
"We cannot say that every application is unconstitutional," Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the court.
For example, the court said Arizona had prosecuted citizens who used someone else's identity to hide a criminal history from a potential employer.
Vosburgh said the plaintiffs' lawsuit challenging the laws will continue. "If you look at enforcement data, the vast majority of individual prosecutions are being brought against undocumented workers," she said.
Supporters of the ID theft laws say immigrants who steal identities to get jobs are committing a crime, and that victims could face difficulties such as getting loans.
Joe Arpaio, the sheriff of metro Phoenix known nationally for targeting illegal immigration and calling himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," has raided dozens of businesses and arrested more than 700 immigrants.
He said in a statement Monday that the identity theft laws should be enforced now but that he has not decided "when or if to resurrect" enforcement.
Based on reporting by The Associated Press.