An illegal immigrant was arrested earlier this year when he was caught using fraudulent credentials in an attempt to get himself a New Jersey driver’s license. Nelson Hernandez, a 47-year-old man living in Paterson, showed a stolen birth certificate and several other forged documents at the Motor Vehicles Services Office in Paterson, and asked to be issued a state license. Immigration attorneys in New Jersey say that Hernandez has risked not only extended jail time as a result, but also could face deportation.
This would not be the first time Hernandez was asked to leave the country, however, as his record indicates. In 2009, he was deported after being arrested for trying to procure a passport with fraudulent documents. Despite this, he came back to the United States sometime after and resumed living in Paterson. Although deportation was the penalty for his first attempt, New Jersey immigration lawyers say that if Hernandez is convicted of charges for wrongfully impersonating another person and performing an act to benefit himself, in addition to charges for using someone else’s documents to procure a driver’s license, he could be forced to serve a prison sentence up to 15 years.
Impersonating someone else, or using stolen documents to create identity cards for yourself, has been regulated with severe penalties since 2004, when George W. Bush signed the “Identity Theft Penalty Enhancement Act.” Under the Act, persons convicted of stealing identity documents can be charged with aggravated identity theft, which is a criminal offense with mandatory penalties. Aggravated identity theft is defined as the use of fraudulent paperwork to commit criminal acts under an assumed name.
The penalties for stealing another person’s identity are purposefully high because of the financial and personal reputation that is tied to identity. Assuming another person’s name and Social Security number gives a criminal access to a whole host of information, and they are more likely to take less precautions in guarding the reputation of a stolen identity. When Bush introduced the Act during his presidency, he introduced the legislation as an endeavour to protect not just people’s bank accounts, but also their financial reputation. For instance, with a valid driver’s license and a birth certificate, Hernandez could have filled out credit card applications under his assumed name, and potentially place the victim in serious debt.
Under the Penalty Enhancement Act, convicted criminals will face mandatory five-year sentences for using fake IDs to help terrorist groups, and two-year sentences for providing fake IDs for non-terrorism-related activities. In New Jersey, under N.J. Rev. Stat. 2C:21-17.2, the use of personal identifying information of another person constitutes a crime of the second degree. Second-degree criminal offenses have a penalty of five to ten years in prison, and a fine up to $150,000. Hernandez may face even harsher penalties, because of his previous attempt at a similar crime.
The experienced immigration attorneys at New Jersey law firm Helmer, Conley, and Kasselman, PA, offer legal counsel and representation to any immigrant who has been caught committing identity theft or any other crime.