Judicial Building

Judicial Building

The Iowa Supreme Court heard the case Thursday of a Muscatine woman who’s facing felony charges for to using a fake identity to get a job — but says she can’t be prosecuted due to her immigration status.

Martha Martinez came to the country illegally in 1997 at age 11. As an adult she used a fake identity in order to work. Iowa ACLU attorney Rita Bettis argues that Martinez can’t face state charges because only the federal government regulates employment of immigrants. She says the case has caused a lot of concern.

“The fear that this type of criminal prosecution is really spreading throughout the immigration community in Iowa already,” Bettis says. Muscatine County Attorney Alan Ostergren argued the other side and says Martinez’s argument presents many practical concerns.

“I don’t have access to some big list to who’s a U.S. citizen and who’s not. So if we would have to affirmative approve that a person is a U.S. citizen in order to prosecute them for identity theft, I don’t know how we could do that,” Ostergren says. Martinez was charged after she obtained a driver’s license in 2014 and the Iowa Department of Transportation then discovered she had been using an assumed name.

She had obtained the driver’s license under a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. DACA was implemented by President Barack Obama’s executive action in 2012 and allows illegal immigrants who came to the U.S. as children to be legally employed.

Sarah Boden of Iowa Public Radio contributed to this story.