12/08/2011 09:40 am ET Updated Dec 09, 2011

Rick Santorum: Undocumented Immigrants Are All Law-Breakers

GOP Presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a former senator from Pennsylvania, took a hard line on unauthorized immigration during a Wednesday campaign stop in Spencer, Iowa, saying undocumented immigrants are breaking the law with "everything" they do.

"You can't be here for 20 years and commit only one illegal act ... because everything you're doing while you're here is against the law," Santorum said, according to the Spencer Daily Reporter. "I understand Congressman Gingrich saying, 'Well, you know, people have been here and they've been good citizens and paying taxes.' Yeah, under somebody else's Social Security number because you stole it."

Santorum's line is based on a common refrain of those who oppose legalization for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States: "Illegal" immigrants have committed a crime simply by being in the country. In fact, even though crossing the border unauthorized is a criminal violation, living in the United States without documents is a civil violation.

The use of false Social Security numbers by undocumented workers is also more complicated than Santorum implies. Using another person's Social Security Number is likewise not necessarily criminal identity theft, according to a 2009 decision by the Supreme Court. In Flores-Figueroa v. United States, the court ruled that prosecutors must prove that someone knowingly used another person's Social Security number -- not simply that they used it -- in order to prove criminal identity theft.

In other words, undocumented immigrants may not be guilty of a crime. At the same time, most undocumented workers -- as many as three-quarters, according to the Social Security Administration -- are paying into Social Security through withholding by their employers, even though they will likely never benefit from the system. An estimated $9 billion per year in Social Security taxes are taken from undocumented workers each year, according to an Associated Press report.