Lawmakers and activists debate identity fraud vs. fake ID use
Activists accused the Maricopa County attorney's office Friday of bringing excessive charges against illegal immigrants arrested for identify theft crimes, arguing that college students found with fake IDs at bars are held to a different standard.
Under state law, illegal immigrants found with fake Social Security or ID cards could face felony charges of forgery and false identity that bar them from posting bail.
In contrast, college students found with fake IDs often have the document seized before being released.
The charges against illegal immigrants are an "unconscionable application of the law,'' attorney Antonio Bustamante said during a news conference organized by the League of United Latin American Citizens outside Superior Court.
The activists demanded less severe penalties, saying the arrests can result in months of jail time.
County Attorney Bill Montgomery addressed the claims in a news conference friday afternoon. Montgomery said he is following the law as it is written and that several statutes in state law make a clear distinction between the use of a fake ID for the purpose of underage drinking and employment related identity theft.
"There is no such thing, really, as a victimless [ID theft ]crime," but, it is a different case when it comes to underage drinking, Montgomery said.
Montgomery's spokesman Jerry Cobb stated, "[College students] are not defrauding anyone. They are just lying about their age and are charged as such.''
Bustamante and other immigration lawyers argued that illegal workers should be charged with a lesser felony that would allow them to post bail and remain at home while waiting for the criminal case to move forward.
"Evenhanded justice is all we are asking for,'' said lawyer David Cutrer, who recently represented a man charged with forgery after being arrested during a job-site raid. The 72-year-old warehouse worker spent six months in jail waiting for his trail to begin, Cutrer said.
The immigration attorneys said they called attention to the issue after Tempe police put out a press release this week boasting of college bar raids that resulted in the seizure of more than 1,700 fake IDs used by minors in 2012.
"We say, 'oh, they are just kids being kids,' '' Cutrer said, noting that illegal immigrants are not afforded the same treatment.
Montgomery explained, "there is a specific statute for specific conduct."
In 2006, Arizona voters approved a law that denied bail to illegal immigrants charged with serious crimes.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.