A project of the Center for Community Change

Supreme Court Rejects Use of ID Theft Charges Against Undocumented Immigrants

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Last May, in Postville, Iowa, nearly 300 undocumented workers were rounded up SWAT-style and shuffled through a joke of a justice system. Many of the immigrants were threatened with a two year prison term for “aggravated Identity Theft” or told they could plead guilty to a lesser charge and face a term of 5 months and then be deported.

At the time, I wrote about the injustice of the “aggravated identity theft” threat – seeing as how the majority of the immigrants facing charges had absolutely no idea that the numbers they were using to work long hours in terrible conditions belonged to actual people.

A legal interpreter who stepped forward after the Postville case told the New York Times later that:

He suggested many of the immigrants could not have knowingly committed the crimes in their pleas. “Most of the clients we interviewed did not even know what a Social Security card was or what purpose it served,” he wrote.

He said many immigrants could not distinguish between a Social Security card and a residence visa, known as a green card. They said they had purchased fake documents from smugglers in Postville, or obtained them directly from supervisors at the Agriprocessors plant. Most did not know that the original cards could belong to Americans and legal immigrants.

Well, on Monday, the Supreme Court ruled on the side of justice and declared that the use of Aggravated Identity Theft in cases against undocumented immigrants is not lawful.

“The court’s ruling preserves basic ideals of fairness for some of our society’s most vulnerable workers,” said Chuck Roth, litigation director at the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago. “An immigrant who uses a false Social Security number to get a job doesn’t intend to harm anyone, and it makes no sense to spend our tax dollars to imprison them for two years.”

This step towards preserving due process and fairness is too little too late for the immigrants rounded up in Postville, or the hundreds of raids conducted under the enforcement-only Bush era. Let’s hope this step is accompanied later this year by comprehensive reform of our immigration system. I know I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating that even fixing small wrongs, like this ruling has done, will not fix the overall system. We need reform.

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