National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Supreme Court rejects tactic of prosecuting immigrants for identity theft

May 07, 2009 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Undocumented workers who work in regular workplaces where they get a paycheck and have taxes withdrawn are usually using Social Security numbers that were not given to them by the Social Security Administration.  They obtain numbers (often with the encouragement of the employer) that are either false numbers or are the numbers given to someone else.  They do not necessarily know what a Social Security number is; they know only that they must have one to get a job.

In the last several months of the Bush administration, federal prosecutors were charging immigrant workers caught in workplace raids with “aggravated identity theft,” a crime that carries a minimum two-year sentence with a conviction.  The prospect of two years in jail was used to get immigrants to agree to deportation.  The government charged more than 300 immigrant workers with identity theft after they were swept up in the raid in Postville, Iowa.  (You can read an account of that raid, and the use of the identity theft charge here.)

On May 4th, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled against the government in a case where an immigrant worker was charged with aggravated identity theft. The government tried to argue that in order to convict on the identity theft charge, it did not have to prove that the worker knew the Social Security number he was using belonged to someone else.  The justices disagreed.  All of them. 

You can read more about the case in this Press Release from the American Immigration Law Foundation, and you can obtain the Court’s decision here:


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