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