Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, is a criminal offense in which an individual obtains key pieces of personally identifiable information, such as Social Security or driver’s license numbers, in order to impersonate someone else.
Though identity theft is often thought of as a faceless crime, experiences of identity theft can have significant impacts on the victim, as well as others involved. Identity theft has real and long-lasting impact on victims. Beyond the financial and time burden, the emotional toll being a victim of identity theft places on an individual can be severe.
It can take some time for victims to overcome the financial stress of identity theft. For individuals already experiencing income insecurity or financial hardship, they may feel extra stress. Victims may be embarrassed and blame themselves for having had their identity assumed by another person. Self-blame can be emotionally damaging. Further, victims often feel vulnerable or exposed, and as a result have a harder time trusting others after experiencing identity theft.
For undocumented people who are engaged in identity theft, they can experience severe criminal and immigration consequences.
There are deep systems of misinformation, coercion and exploitation involved in the chueca industry. The vast majority of undocumented workers who have obtained chuecos are rendered vulnerable to deportation due to criminal convictions for actions they did not knowingly or willingly undertake.
Even if the action was undertaken without knowledge of its impact, victims of identity theft have a right to restore justice for such a violation. One component of restorative justice includes spreading awareness about chuecos and identity theft, to prevent further or future harm.
The State’s strategy to employ punitive justice in such cases of identity theft, through fines and jail sentences, does not provide restitution to the undocumented immigrant who may also be a victim of coercion and exploitation.
*note: Many undocumented people can achieve legal status, even during deportation proceedings. Importantly, a person with certain criminal convictions, like identity theft can lose this opportunity.
Here are some strategies to manage vulnerabilities around work:
Speak to an immigration lawyer (not with a notary) to see if you qualify to apply for a work permit. If you are eligible for a work permit, you will be given a SSN.
Among the best resources for legal aid are:
Ingrid Encalada arrived to the US at 17 years old. The country she left behind was very poor and she was hopeful for the chance to earn a better life in the US. But without a government-issued ID and a social security number, she instead found her opportunities severely curtailed.
After a few years of extremely difficult economic circumstances, Ingrid learned through her community that you can buy “chuecos” (“fake” IDs) on the street for as little as $100. She was told that chuecos were how immigrants could get a better job, with regular pay every two weeks, providing increased income security and the opportunity to rent houses and enroll in college. For undocumented immigrants like Ingrid, a chuecos represents narrow, but tangible, protection against wage and labor exploitation from unscrupulous employers who, all to often, exploit a workers’ immigration status to pay unfair wages, or steal wages through a variety of methods.
Within the context of extreme precariousness as an undocumented immigrant, Ingrid eventually made the same difficult decision that so many otherwise honest and hardworking immigrants without documentation take: she bought a chueca. The person she bought it from spoke nebulously of “risk” — but never indicated to Ingrid that the SSN was connected to an actual person, and that in using the chueca, Igrid was falsifying her identity by adopting someone else‘s. Had she known, it would have changed her decision entirely.
With the protection of safe and decent working conditions afforded to her by the chueca, Ingrid felt more empowered to contribute to her community and society at large. Ingrid set about building a new and better life for herself. She took a job washing dishes at a nursing home making $6/hr (the highest wage she had yet earned) and quickly won the favor of her manager and supervisors. Ingrid was a model worker: honest, diligent, competent. With the opportunity to now transition into safe work, Ingrid began learning English as a second language so she could more fully integrate into the wider US society.
In 2010 law enforcement showed up to her job and arrested her for identity theft. The woman whose identity Ingrid unknowingly assumed when she purchased her chueca was the recipient of government benefits that were disrupted by Ingrid’s employment status. The effect on this woman cannot be overstated — being the recipient of identity theft can be an immensely painful, time-consuming and frustrating experience. And the regret Ingrid feels is sincere.
Ingrid has made attempts to contact the woman she harmed but her requests have so far gone unanswered. This project is one way she is trying to make amends: she wants to raise awareness about the impact that identity theft can have on US residents AND immigrants themselves.
Even though Ingrid served her jail time and paid tens of thousands of dollars in fines and restitution over the years, ICE is now leveraging her conviction to spur deportation proceedings. ICE is seeking to deport Ingrid, for no other reason than that they can and they want to. Deportation was not a component of her sentence, and the woman who’s identity Ingrid unknowingly assumed has not called for Ingrid’s deportation. Ingrid has two US-born children who have only ever known life here. Yet, if Ingrid is deported, they will need to start new lives in an unfamiliar country that is ravaged by poverty and political instability.
Ingrid’s ID theft conviction has rendered her ineligible to apply for a green card, which she would otherwise be eligible for were it not for this conviction: one decision she made without fully understanding the consequences or the harm she could cause in making it. The only way to restore her green card eligibility would be for a gubernatorial pardon… so please share this message far and wide so more people understand the horrible things that can happen when you use chuecos! Lets educate the immigrant community on the dangers of chuecos and start a public discussion about a legal pathway to work authorization for undocumented immigrants.