By Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas

In May, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ignacio Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican migrant worker from Illinois convicted of identity theft in 2007. Like most migrant workers, Flores-Figueroa did not know that the social security number in the false papers he was forced to buy in order to get work was a number that actually belonged to another person.

The crime of identity theft was established by an act of Congress in 1998, to deal with the growing problem of people stealing credit cards and personal information to empty bank accounts or get thousands of dollars in credit under someone else’s name. After 9/11/2001, authorities feared that false identities could also be used to facilitate acts of terrorism. This led to the Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act of 2004, which made it an aggravated felony punishable by an additional two-year minimum prison sentence.

Since 2006, overzealous prosecutors realized they could use this anti-terrorist weapon to criminalize illegal immigration – which is only a civil offense. So they began testing the waters by charging migrant workers in isolated cases. They won convictions and appeals. One of those cases was that of Flores-Figueroa, who appealed to the 8th Circuit Court and lost. This success emboldened immigration prosecutors to apply the charge against 300 workers at the May 12, 2008 raid in Postville, Iowa.