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Free to Be Someone Else?

Yesterday, the FBI announced that more than 7,000 schoolchildren in Puerto Rico had their identities stolen by an identity-ring supplying illegal aliens with Puerto Rican birth certificates and Social Security numbers.  These aliens then bought “packages” of birth certificates and Social Security numbers and used them to establish themselves in the United States.  With this information, the aliens could get drivers licenses, credit, and, of course, jobs.

This case is a sad reminder of an all too common occurrence.  Every day, in cities all around the country, illegal aliens are using stolen identities to obtain their jobs, sometimes even tricking employers who try to employ best practices.  With stolen identities, even employers using E-Verify are often fooled into thinking that the aliens are legally entitled to work.   This trend is not new.  Over the last several years, one of the most common kinds of identity theft ICE agents encountered was abuse of Puerto Rican birth certificates and Social Security numbers.

Immigrant advocates have often stated that these aliens may not know that the identities that they are using are stolen.  This may be.  But their ignorance does not keep their actions from causing harm to real people.  Identity fraud — even if committed “simply” to get a job, or a drivers license, or credit to buy necessities – often causes significant problems for Americans and legally authorized workers.  In the FBI case, the fraud was especially pernicious.  A five-year old, whose identity was stolen, would not likely have learned of this theft for fifteen years, when she applied for credit and found more than a decade’s worth of damage to resolve.

While targeting egregious employers, DHS and ICE will undoubtedly run into thousands of cases of identity theft, as we did during my tenure at ICE.  In discussing the Obama Administration’s approach to worksite enforcement, DHS has not addressed how they will respond to identity theft cases.  Will they send an alien using a stolen identity on his or her way, allowing the alien to simply re-use the identity?  Or will they take appropriate steps to stop the fraud, and keep an alien from continuing to harm the citizen or legally authorized worker?  DHS cannot afford to turn a blind eye and ignore those who have stolen a five-year old’s identity, or anyone’s identity, for that matter.  The Department’s stated goal of continuing to target the employers is the right approach.  But, in doing so, they must not allow identity thieves to continue to commit their crime, and cause even greater harm to the public.

Julie Myers Wood blogs about a variety of immigration, national security and transnational crime issues. Read More