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Supreme Court ruling could toss ID theft cases against migrants



A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this week could result in dismissals of identity theft cases against illegal immigrant workers, a local defense attorney and open border advocate said.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said that undocumented workers who use phony IDs can’t be considered identity thieves without proof they knew they were stealing real people’s Social Security numbers and other numbers.

The high court’s decision limits federal authorities’ use of a 2004 law – intended to get tough on identity thieves – against immigrants who are picked up in workplace raids and found to be using false Social Security and alien registration numbers.

Pima County Legal Defender Isabel Garcia said the ruling could affect federal prosecutions in which identity theft is charged as a way to pressure illegal immigrants to volunteer to be quickly deported in exchange for dismissal of the identity theft charge. Conviction for identity theft carries a two-year mandatory prison term.

Saying she has not yet read the ruling, handed down Monday, Garcia said it also might stop local authorities from charging identity theft in certain cases.

Garcia said state and county prosecutors used a state identity theft law to “criminalize” undocumented immigrant workers.

Such workers, Garcia said, typically buy fake identification, including Social Security cards, to get jobs, not to raid bank accounts or run up credit card debt they would not have to repay.

Garcia represented one of 11 suspects picked up by state Department of Public Safety officers last spring in a raid on the Panda Express, 2485 N. Swan Road.

The raid followed a three-month investigation into suspected identity theft by workers at the restaurant, authorities said at the time. Law officers said the restaurant was not suspected of wrongdoing in the case.

The 11 were charged under a state law making it a felony to steal someone’s identity.

But the charges were reduced to misdemeanors and the 11 were sentenced to time served in jail while awaiting court disposition of their cases.

Monday’s Supreme Court ruling will not affect the Panda Express case because it already is settled, Garcia said.

Federal and Pima County prosecutors could not be reached for comment on the Supreme Court’s decision.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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