“Aggravated Identity Theft” At Issue In Supreme Court


The Supreme Court hears arguments today in a case testing a policy pioneered by the Bush administration to leverage plea bargains from illegal immigrants, says National Public Radio. At issue is a 2004 federal law imposing a mandatory two-year prison term for identity theft. Ignacio Figueroa, a Mexican national, came to the U.S. States illegally. For six years, he worked in an Illinois steel plant using a false name and a Social Security number that belonged to no one. In 2006, he decided to work under his real name, and he bought a counterfeit resident ID card and Social Security card. He was charged with being in the country illegally, using fake immigration documents and aggravated identity theft, ending up with a 6-year prison term.

Figueroa lawyer Kevin Russell argues that the identity theft statute and its mandatory penalty was wrongly applied to Figueroa because the statute requires knowing use of someone else’s identity documents, and he didn’t know the Social Security number he was using belonged to a real person. Former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty says the Bush administration used the language of the aggravated identity theft statute and the threat of its two-year prison term to force illegal immigrants to accept voluntary deportation and shorter prison terms for other immigration violations.

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