Defense attorneys on Tuesday urged Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas to stop prosecuting illegal immigrants as co-conspirators in smuggling until the case for 44 illegal immigrants is resolved.
Timothy Agan represents one of the 44 charged as conspirators in what is considered a test case challenging the county’s policy of prosecuting illegal immigrants under Arizona’s antismuggling law. He said the policy will jam the criminal justice system and become an unnecessary expense for taxpayers.
Some 200 illegal immigrants are charged with conspiracy to smuggle in various cases at Maricopa County Superior Court.
If the courts rule that Thomas’ policy is illegal, the cost will be astronomical, warned Peter Schey, a Los Angeles civil rights attorney helping Agan represent Cupertino Salazar.
“Rest assured, there will be several thousand lawsuits for false arrests,” Schey said while outside the Phoenix courthouse.
Schey and Agan want their case and the remaining ones to be resolved before Thomas accepts more prosecutions.
Schey, executive director of the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law, on Tuesday tried to convince Judge Thomas O’Toole to dismiss the charges against the 44 illegal immigrants. He argued that the federal government is in charge of enforcing immigration law, and that a person can’t conspire to smuggle him or herself.
Sally Wells, deputy Maricopa County attorney, countered that states can pass laws conflicting with federal oversight if they protect such vital interests as the economy or public safety.
O’Toole took the matter under advisement, giving no indication on when he will rule.
Thomas and Schey contend that whoever loses will appeal.
Several smugglers have been arrested and charged since the anti-”coyote” law took effect in August.
Two months ago, Maricopa County sheriff ’s deputies stopped two vanloads of illegal immigrants in the far West Valley. Forty-eight illegal immigrants were charged with conspiracy to smuggle.
So far, four have pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of solicitation to smuggle and were sentenced to three years’ probation and deported. Thomas has given the remaining 44 until Tuesday to plead guilty or the offers will be off the table.