Supreme Court is right: Kansas law ap­plies to un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants. So does com­pas­sion

The Kansas City Star - - Opinion - BY THE KANSAS CITY STAR ED­I­TO­RIAL BOARD

Op­po­nents of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump rightly re­minded us dur­ing im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings that no one is above the law. The U.S. Supreme Court this week es­sen­tially ruled that ap­plies to un­doc­u­mented work­ers as well.

And as dev­as­tat­ing as that devel­op­ment may be for the three men and their pas­sion­ate sup­port­ers caught up in the Kansas court case that led to the high court’s de­ci­sion, equal pro­tec­tion and en­force­ment of the law is a vi­tal prin­ci­ple un­der­pin­ning Amer­i­can life.

The Kansas Supreme Court had ruled 5-2 in 2017 that the three un­doc­u­mented restau­rant work­ers — Ramiro Gar­cia, Don­aldo Morales and Guadalupe OchoaLara — could not be pros­e­cuted by the state for theft of So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers be­cause that was an im­mi­gra­tion mat­ter and the exclusive re­spon­si­bil­ity of fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. In par­tic­u­lar, the Kansas court’s ar­gu­ment goes, the false So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers were con­tained on fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion-re­lated I-9 forms.

Yes, they were, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 ma­jor­ity says, but that didn’t make the stolen in­for­ma­tion the exclusive prov­ince of the I-9 form or the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. In­deed, the false num­bers were also put on state tax forms.

“A tan­gi­ble ob­ject can be ‘con­tained in’ only one place at any point in time,” the ma­jor­ity cor­rectly wrote, “but in­for­ma­tion may be ‘con­tained in’ many dif­fer­ent places. The mere fact that an I–9 con­tains an item of in­for­ma­tion, such as a name or ad­dress, does not mean that in­for­ma­tion ‘con­tained in’ the I–9 is used when­ever that name or ad­dress is used else­where. …

“The com­ple­tion of tax-with­hold­ing doc­u­ments plays no part in the process of de­ter­min­ing whether a per­son is au­tho­rized to work.”

The Kansas Supreme Court’s the­ory that any in­for­ma­tion on an I-9 is exclusive to that form, and there­fore is the sole baili­wick of im­mi­gra­tion law, would, by ex­ten­sion, make ev­ery filer’s name and other iden­ti­fy­ing in­for­ma­tion the sole prov­ince of im­mi­gra­tion au­thor­i­ties, which is far­ci­cal on its face.

No one is above the law, no mat­ter what forms he or she fills out.

Sadly, though, even in the midst of in­ad­ver­tently af­firm­ing such a cru­cial le­gal doc­trine, three lives are changed for­ever.

Amer­i­can so­ci­ety over the years has be­come in­creas­ingly de­pen­dent on vastly more im­mi­grants than our sys­tem of le­gal en­try has al­lowed, and along the way, our way of life has been en­hanced. From con­struc­tion to restau­rants to hos­pi­tal­ity and more, un­doc­u­mented work­ers have made Amer­i­can life bet­ter.

They shouldn’t have to toil in the shad­ows, or with the cloud of even jus­ti­fi­able pros­e­cu­tion hang­ing over their heads. How about an im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem that legally sup­plies the ea­ger, in­dus­tri­ous la­bor pool we clearly crave? How about a set-up in which la­bor­ers seek­ing to bet­ter their fam­i­lies’ lives don’t see the need to steal some­one else’s iden­tity to get it done?

The law is the law. But our woe­ful im­mi­gra­tion sys­tem is rip­ping lives apart and invit­ing il­le­gal­ity. When are we go­ing to ad­dress that?

Lady Jus­tice, as we’ve seen in this case, must be blind­folded. The rest of us have no such ex­cuse.

Star file photo

Rekha Sharma-Craw­ford, a lawyer rep­re­sent­ing three un­doc­u­mented work­ers who the U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week can be pros­e­cuted by Kansas for theft of So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, said her team is eval­u­at­ing a course of ac­tion.

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