Are Illegal Immigrants also Identity Thieves?

Many illegal immigrants in this country are also identity thieves, at least in the eyes of the law. Immigrants often use counterfeit documents, such as driver’s licenses and Social Security cards, to apply for employment in the U.S.

An Additional Two Years in Prison

When authorities prosecute illegal immigrants, it’s not uncommon to also press identity theft charges against them. Under the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act, immigrants can be sentenced to an additional two years in prison for “aggravated identity theft.”

But They’re Not Really ID Thieves, Are They?

Ignacio Flores-Figueroa and his team of defense lawyers say no. Flores-Figueroa is an illegal immigrant who used a fake Social Security number to get work in the United States. Flores-Figueroa was sentenced to 51 months under several immigration offenses, but chose to fight the identity theft charge that extended his sentence by two years. The Flores-Figueroa case raises the question: Should those who use identification numbers that are not theirs, but don’t intentionally impersonate others, be subject to the harsh punishments that “real” identity thieves are? Supreme Court justices are currently reviewing his case, and must reconsider identity theft law, which aims to prosecute anyone who knowingly transfers, possesses, or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person.

Flores-Figueroa’s defense (which in my opinion is pretty flimsy) is that he didn’t know that the 9-digit number he used was actually a real person’s Social Security number. (The SSN he used does, in fact, belong to a minor.)

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Chief Justice John G. Roberts summarizes: “There’s a basic problem here. You get an extra two years if it just so happens that the [Social Security] number you picked out of the air belonged to somebody else.”

To Justice Roberts I would say, yes, that’s exactly right. You should get an extra two years.

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