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Supreme Court Hears Identity Theft Case, ICE Conducts First Raid Under Obama

La Opinin, News Report, Maribel Hastings, Translated by Elena Shore Posted: Feb 26, 2009

Editor's Note: As immigrant rights groups condemn the first immigration raid to be carried out under the Obama administration in Washington state, the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., is hearing a case that could have national repercussions on future immigration raids and deportation proceedings.

WASHINGTON, DC -- The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on a case that seeks to establish whether undocumented immigrants who use false documents should be accused of aggravated identity theft, which carries up to two years in jail, even if they dont know if they are violating the privacy of real individuals.

The arguments were presented in the context of the first immigration raid to take place under the Barack Obama administration. The raid was carried out in Bellingham, Washington state, and resulted in the arrest of 28 workers. The move generated criticism from immigrant rights groups.

Even the New York Times said in an editorial that the federal government is abusing the 2004 law for the sole purpose of pressuring the undocumented into expedited deportation.

The high court is seeking to determine whether, in order to prove that there was aggravated identity theft, the government must prove that the accused knew that the fake ID belonged to another person.

Legal representatives of Mexican Carlos Flores Figueroa, who is at the center of this case, along with immigrant rights groups, are arguing that in carrying out immigration raids, authorities are seeking the federal charge of aggravated identity theft in order to expedite the deportation of detainees found guilty of minor immigration offenses.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, groups such as the National Immigration Forum and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) pointed out that Obama had promised a more humane and fair immigration policy. Although the president did not mention immigration reform in his speech to the country Tuesday night, they hope that he keeps his campaign promise.

"What must Latino and immigrant voters think? They went to the polls in record numbers and voted for change, but apparently this 'change' seems to be 'more than same,'" said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.

"At a time when there are many messages of change and hope, you have to wondered how change will come through these failed policies," said Janet Murguia, president of NCLR.

"We need immediate action to support the personal promise that President Obama made to the electorate, including the more than 10.5 million Latino voters, that just and humane immigration reform would be a priority," said Jorge-Mario Cabrera, spokesperson for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA).

The Associated Press reported that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has ordered a review of the raid in Bellingham. Napolitano and Obama have talked about promoting an immigration policy that puts more emphasis on employers that hire undocumented immigrants, rather than the employees.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court just heard arguments in the case of Mexican immigrant Ignacio Flores Carlos Figueroa, who after years of working with forged documents under a false name, decided to use his real name, but with forged documents that belonged to a real person.

Most of the false Social Security cards used by undocumented immigrants in order to work use numbers that dont belong to anyone. But there are some instances where the Social Security number belongs to a real person.

In the case of Figueroa Flores, his former employer became suspicious when he changed documents, and while investigating he found that they in fact belonged to another person.

Flores Figueroa was charged with aggravated identity theft under the 2004 law of the same name. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the conviction.

But lawyers argue that the Mexican immigrant, while guilty of using forged documents, is not guilty of aggravated identity theft because he did not know that the documents actually belonged to another person, and did not use them for credit cards or to steal the persons savings.

Kevin Russell, Flores Figueroa's lawyer, argues that the 2004 law of aggravated identity theft was established to increase punishment against those who knowingly invade someones privacy in order to steal their money or put them in debt.

But that's not the case with many undocumented immigrants, he said.

However, Toby Heytens, attorney for the Department of Justice, argued that one must look at it from the perspective of the victim whose identity is being violated, whether knowingly or not.

Tara Tidwell Cullen, counsel for the National Immigrant Justice Center, told La Opinin that she could not provide an estimate of how many immigrants could be affected by the Supreme Courts decision this spring, but the charge of aggravated identity theft has been used in numerous immigration raids across the country.

"If the Supreme Court decides to accept the governments interpretation of the statute [on identity theft] as we saw in the raids in Postville, Iowa, the government will use the tactic to force immigrants to plead guilty of other charges that speed up their deportation," said the lawyer.

In the case of Postville, she said, of the approximately 400 people who were arrested, 300 were charged with aggravated identity theft.

Related Articles:

Immigrants Denied Counsel in Removal Proceedings

The Postville 28 -- Women Immigrants Fight to Stay in U.S.

Hispanic Caucus to Investigate Postville Trials

Interpreting the Largest ICE Raid in U.S. History: A Personal Account

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