Supreme Court Hears Challenge To Identity-Theft Law In Immigration Cases
Lecturer in Law Kevin K. Russell is quoted in The New York Times in a story about a Supreme Court case that explores the question whether the use of false ID cards by illegal immigrants is identity theft. Russell argued the case:
A federal identity-theft law that has become a favorite tool of the government in immigration prosecutions appeared imperiled on Wednesday after the Supreme Court heard arguments about it.
Prosecutors have relied on the law to seek or threaten two-year sentence extensions in immigration cases against people who used fake Social Security numbers that turned out to belong to real people.
Kevin K. Russell, a lawyer for the defendant, said that ordinary usage requires the government to prove that people accused of identity theft under the law knew the numbers they used belonged to someone else.
“If I say that John knowingly used a pair of scissors of his mother,” Mr. Russell said by way of example, “I am saying not simply that John knew he was using something that turned out to be his mother’s scissors or even that John knew he was using scissors which turned out to be his mother’s. I am saying that John knew that the scissors he was using belonged to his mother.”
Mr. Russell’s client, Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, was a Mexican citizen working illegally for a steel plant in Illinois. At first, Mr. Flores-Figueroa used a false name and fake Social Security number, one that did not happen to match that of a real person. Six years later, he told his employer that he wanted to be known by his real name, and he presented forged Social Security and alien registration cards that bore numbers assigned to real people.
Mr. Russell said that interpretation of the law can give rise to perverse results, including the possibilities of “two people with identical culpability ending up with substantially different punishments, or people with substantially different culpability ending up with identical punishments.”