Supreme Court Limits Use of Identity Theft Law in Immigration Cases

Unanimous vote by the high court protects immigrants from potentially unfair charges in aggravated identity theft cases

May 04, 2009

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court in Flores-Figueroa v. United States, in a unanimous decision, held that the government must prove that a person charged with aggravated identity theft knew that the identity he was using belonged to another person. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the nation’s leading legal civil rights organization, filed a “friend of the court” brief when the case was presented before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“We commend the High Court’s unanimous decision. Yesterday’s decision highlights the requirement that the government must comply with the letter and spirit of the law when conducting immigration enforcement,” said Kristina Campbell, MALDEF staff attorney.

Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa was an unauthorized worker who used false documents in order to obtain work. However, Flores-Figueroa did not know that the social security and alien registration numbers he used belonged to real people. The United States charged Flores-Figueroa with aggravated identity theft, which added an additional two-year mandatory sentence to his underlying conviction. The question before the Court was whether the criminal statute required the government to show that the defendant knew that the identification he used belonged to another person. The Court held that Flores-Figueroa must have had knowledge that the information on the identification documents he used actually belonged to another person to be convicted of aggravated identity theft and have the additional two years required under the statute added to his sentence.

“The government must not overreach its authority and must interpret the law in a manner consistent with the intent of Congress. The decision also underscores the need for comprehensive immigration reform so that unauthorized workers can obtain legal status and come out of the shadows,” said Henry Solano, MALDEF’s interim president and general counsel.

Click here for a link to the U.S. Supreme Court opinion.

For all media inquiries, please contact Laura Rodriguez.

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund