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Arizona Appeals Court Upholds Conspiracy Conviction for Illegal Immigrant

By Ray Stern

The case of Adolfo Guzman-Garcia came to symbolize the ineptness of Maricopa County Andrew Thomas' scheme to prosecute illegal immigrants for conspiracy to smuggled themselves into the country -- in the beginning, anyway.

With a ruling last week by the Arizona Court of Appeals, though, the case now represents another victory for Thomas on the issue.

Adolfo Guzman-Garcia was among the first illegal immigrants to be tried under a novel plan hatched by Thomas to apply a conspiracy angle to the state's 2005 anti-human-smuggling law. Thomas' plan was condemned by pro-immigration advocates, and when a jury found Guzman-Garcia guilty, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Thomas O'Toole threw out the conviction.

Since then, though, a similar conviction of another immigrant on conspiracy charges was upheld in July by the Appeals Court. The same day that news was announced, Thomas held a press conference to say he'd prosecuted more than 750 immigrants under the conspiracy interpretation. A New Times article at the time pointed out the cost to jail those people cost county taxpayers more than $5 million.

Last week, the Appeals Court upheld Guzman-Garcia's conviction, leaving no doubt -- if there was any left -- that prosecutors in Arizona can charge immigrants with smuggling themselves.

Still, no prosecutors from other Arizona counties have taken Thomas' lead. Neither have prosecutors with the state Attorney General's office. And apparently, no other Arizona law enforcement agency besides the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office has even submitted such charges for prosecution.

Whether the Appeals Court decisions means more counties will start charging immigrants this way -- or whether the state could afford such a wide-scale prosecution effort -- is yet to be seen.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.
Contact: Ray Stern