Frightened Immigrants Unknowingly Become Instant Thieves
A vicious cycle that must be broken
In the United States, many people see illegal immigrants as identity thieves. Although this is a falsity, it is not altogether unfounded.
First, let me make myself very clear: Identity thieves come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and nationalities. They could be your mother, brother, employee, or best friend. In pursuit of money, or “living large,” some people will do outlandish things without caring how it affects the lives of others.
People who come to America seeking the dream of happiness, freedom, and success are generally ill informed as to the laws, the employment and living systems, and even the cultural standards by which we all live. Planning effectively for arrival and assimilation is next to impossible. So, when immigrants arrive stateside, they have a tendency to seek out and immediately trust their own kind. That is what typically gets them into trouble right out of the gate.
Picture a mother and her children. She meets a person native to her country who offers her, for a sum of money, all the paperwork and identification information she supposedly needs. One hundred sacred dollars or so, and voilà, she has a Social Security number, a driver’s license, and other documents that prove she and her family are legal visitors or citizens, without having to face frightening foreign government officials.
Now they are all identity thieves, without even realizing it—guilty without even knowing that they’ve committed a crime. As they struggle to make ends meet, they get jobs upon providing the necessary cards and numbers requested of them. They work and are never told about the tax system here and what is required of them with regard to filing returns. Deeper and deeper into the hole they go, because they just don’t know, and are too afraid to ask for help from government agencies.
And when we discover that we are a victim of identity theft, and that some immigrant is using our personal information to work, get medical help, buy large-ticket items, and not pay taxes (our taxes, in fact, since they are working in our names), we are justifiably angry, miserable, and vengeful.
We want our identity back, and we want justice. They just want freedom and survival, and they never intended to hurt us.
This vicious cycle must be broken. Our government is working hard to find thieves and bring them to justice. But the ignorant individual thieves are not the primary problem. We need to stop the organized groups that prey on frightened immigrants. The crime rings are the source of this niche within the humongous world of identity theft.
We could help these innocent individuals. We could help them understand how to obtain valid visitor documents, live in the U.S., work and pay taxes, protect their assets as they accrue, and protect their U.S.–born children, who are U.S. citizens (in accordance with the 14th Amendment).
Here’s a brief story of a man I know who has been in the U.S. legally for 16 years. He has his valid ITIN number, and he has four U.S.–born children. Most of his extended family is here, many of them illegally. This man and I are working together to get him legal help for a few issues in which he’s been “had,” and to help him gain citizenship. I asked him if he had a will, so that his children and assets would be protected if something should happen to him or his wife. He said, “A will? What's a will?” I asked, “Who will get your children if you and Rosa die?” “My cousin,” he answered. “Is your cousin a legal U.S. citizen?” No, of course not.
Where my friend is from, they don’t have wills. If the parents die, the family takes care of the children, and that’s that. I told him that here, since his children are citizens and he has a house and some money, he and his wife need to prepare a will, or the court system will decide what happens with everything that is theirs. No cousin!
Now, with my help, he has spoken with a lawyer for the first time. I found one who speaks his language. My friend was frightened and reticent at first, but now he’s ecstatic and excited. He wants to help his friends and family. I gave him the tools, opened the door, and gave him a nudge. He’s on his way, finally, after 16 years.
The bottom line? If we help our immigrant population to live smartly here, the number who become identity thieves will drop dramatically. If we teach them to manage their financial lives, their kids will grow up smart and secure and surely be strong contributors to bettering our country.
Published November 18, 2010