WASHINGTON-The Supreme Court Monday agreed to hear a case on whether illegal immigrants on trial can be prosecuted for aggravated identity theft if they didn't know that their fabricated identifications were stealing a real person's identity.
In May hundreds of undocumented workers were arrested in a raid on a meatpacking plant in Iowa. Federal courts have split on decisions on what kind of accusations can be brought against these immigrants and others already under prosecution.
If the high court rules that these immigrants can be prosecuted for aggravated identity theft, they would face harsher sentences, including a mandatory two-year term in prison.
Defense lawyers have argued that their clients should not be charged with stealing someone else's identity because the immigrants only were seeking documentation that would allow them to work. They didn't know if the numbers were fictitious or belonged to someone else, their lawyers say.
The Bush administration, however, has said that it doesn't matter under federal law.
The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in St. Louis, agreed with the administration and upheld the conviction of Ignacio Carlos Flores-Figueroa.
Flores-Figueroa, a Mexican national, worked at a steel plant in East Moline, Ill., since 2000. Originally, he worked there under an assumed name, and false Social Security and alien registration numbers. In 2006, he told his employer he wanted to be known by his real name and submitted new identification documents.
This time, though, the Social Security number belonged to someone else, and his green card number was that of yet another person. Suspicious, the employer contacted immigration authorities, who arrested Flores-Figueroa.
The five-count indictment against him included two counts of aggravated identity theft.
The case will be argued next year.
Meanwhile, the Iowa meatpacking plant Agriprocessors that was raided in May is facing charges for employing the undocumented workers as well as children.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.