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SPLC joins brief opposing Kansas law targeting immigrants

The SPLC and 29 worker and immigrant rights organizations filed an amicus brief today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold a court decision stating that a Kansas identity theft law cannot be used to turn local law enforcement into immigration agents.

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed in Kansas v. Garcia, a case where the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against the state law. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the case this fall.

“This statute is just another example of states crafting laws that attempt to usurp federal authority over immigration law at the expense of working people,” said SPLC attorney Julia Solórzano. “It not only gives local authorities a license to harass the immigrant community, but it harms all workers.”

The Kansas law undermines the federal government’s exclusive authority over the prosecution of people for falsifying information – such as a name, birth date or Social Security number – on Form I-9, which is used to verify that an individual is authorized to work in the United States. Kansas’ law allows the state to prosecute workers for using falsified I-9 information when it is used in other documents, such as state tax forms, leases and employment applications – giving employers a powerful threat against immigrant workers who resist illegal working conditions.

When the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against the state law, however, it noted that federal law not only prohibits state authorities from using the I-9 form for state law enforcement purposes, but bars states from using information found within the form for law enforcement purposes.

The brief describes how the Kansas law not only encourages local law enforcement to assume a federal responsibility – verification of employment authorization – but provides employers with a means to exploit workers. By threatening undocumented workers with prosecution, employers could force all workers to endure workplace abuse.

“It’s no secret that immigrant workers often face retaliation when they stand up to workplace abuse,” Solórzano said. “Under this law, unscrupulous employers would be given a powerful weapon to threaten immigrant workers complaining about unsafe work conditions or wage theft. Ultimately, it depresses wages and working conditions for all workers and creates unfair competition for employers who comply with worker protection laws.”