Today, in deciding the case of Martha Martinez, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a sounding rebuke to the Muscatine County Attorney for illegally prosecuting a Dreamer for her employment in conflict with federal law.

Martha Martinez, who was brought to the U.S. to live in Iowa when she was just 11, came out of the shadows as an adult with four U.S. citizen children to try to obtain legal authorization. But when she did that, in a terrible bait and switch, a local county prosecutor tried to take everything away. 

A Life Built in Iowa

Martha was brought by her parents from Mexico to the U.S. without authorization, and who has lived in Iowa ever since. She grew up in Muscatine County, attended school there, graduated high school, got a job, and started a family. 

Finally, in 2013, she was able to get Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which afforded her authorization to live, work, and study in our country after passing a rigorous background check, submitting herself to a lengthy application process, and paying a large application fee.

Through that authorization, DACA promised regularization to “come out of the shadows.” But when Martha did so, and went to obtain a driver’s license under her real name and newly issued Social Security number provided through DACA, the Iowa DOT used facial recognition software and found a driver’s license from when she was only a high schooler at age 17, which she allegedly obtained using a fictitious name—not one the prosecutor has even alleged belongs to another person.

Charged For Being Employed

The Muscatine county prosecutor used her continuing employment as the basis of criminal charges, despite the fact that federal immigration law makes clear that state and local officials may not regulate the employment of noncitizens in that manner.

In today's decision, the Iowa Supreme Court held that Iowa’s forgery statute, which regulates work authorization of immigrants, is facially invalid. It also struck down Iowa’s identity theft statute as applied to this case, meaning it cannot be used to regulate employment in the United States by immigrants, which is controlled by federal law.

The ACLU of Iowa is proud to have filed an amicus brief in this important case. The case marks one of only a few times that an amicus curiae has been allowed to present oral arguments to the Court.

No County Can Be a DACA-Free Zone

At its heart, this case was about human rights in Iowa, and specifically, whether local authorities can create a 'DACA-free zone' through improper prosecution of a noncitizen for employment. Today’s decision recognizes what the courts have long recognized: that because foreign policy and international humanitarian interests are at play, Congress must speak with one voice, not 50 separate state voices, and certainly more than 3,000 separate county voices.”

Throughout this case, we’ve heard from Dreamers and their advocates and supporters across Iowa. This prosecution threatened the ability of the essential federal Dreamer DACA program to work in Iowa, because the message sent by this misguided and harmful prosecution to some of our brightest and most inspiring young people who qualify for DACA was this: if you do everything right, come out of the shadows and obtain legal authorization, any local Iowa prosecutor could take everything away in a terrible "bait and switch."

We are grateful that the Court rebuked that today, and set right what had been a terrible injustice that betrayed Iowa’s proud history of being a welcoming state that recognizes and values the contributions of our own immigrant ancestors as well as our immigrant friends, neighbors, and families in our communities today.

The ACLU of Iowa is enormously grateful to its cooperating attorneys with the University of Iowa College of Law legal clinic: Professor Bram Elias and Iowa City attorney Jack Hathaway.

Read the decision here.