Having spent much of this past semester writing and researching my Legal Writing brief at the University of Minnesota Law School, I became intimately acquainted with the aggravated identity theft statute 18 USC 1028A. Today, almost a year since it was used to deport nearly 400 Latino immigrants after the ICE raid in Postville, the Supreme Court issued its decision on Flores-Figueroa vs. United States. Justice Breyer authored the opinion which explained that for aggravated identity theft, the defendant must have known they were misappropriating an actual person’s identity. All too often in the past, 1028A was used as a catch-all statute to compound the sentences of unwitting immigrants who were given papers and had no knowledge that their Social Security numbers belonged to a real person.[Stout, David. "Supreme Court Rules Against Government in Identity-Theft Case"]
In Postville, for example, local sources state that the management of Agriprocessors actively provided such false documents for the immigrant workers from Central America. Within a week of that raid in May of 2008, chained groups of immigrants were brought before a judge holding court in a trailer. They were told that they had stolen people’s Social Security numbers [a word few of them knew], and that they should accept the government’s offer of 6 months and then deportation. Most took the deal, though they understood little English and even less about the complex American immigration system.[Stout, David. "Supreme Court Rules Against Government in Identity-Theft Case"]
Ignacio Flores-Figueroa was a Mexican immigrant working in an Illinois steel facility. Unbeknownst to him, the papers he had procured bore the name and number of an actual person. When he was caught, Ignacio pled guilty to the immigration charges but refused to accept the aggravating sentence of identity theft. While the 8th Circuit upheld the conviction, the Supreme Court’s decision today means that Ignacio will serve less time before he is deported. However, this case, argued by Stanford University Law Professor Kevin Russell, will hopefully change, if not eliminate, ICE employer raids in the future. [Stout, David. "Supreme Court Rules Against Government in Identity-Theft Case"] While real identity thieves will still be subject to the compounding sentencing of 1028A, vulnerable immigrants will no longer be forced to spend extra time in prison before returning to their families. As Postville prepares for its first anniversary march of last year’s ICE raid, one can only think Flores-Figueroa came a year too late.