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Federal Secure Communities program sued for detaining citizen

For the first time ever, a U.S. citizen has sued the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Homeland Security Department for wrongly identifying him as a deportable immigrant and detaining him in a maximum-security prison for two months.

Born in India and adopted by an American couple when he was 4 months old, the plaintiff became a naturalized citizen when he was 1 year old. The man is now a 24-year-old computer repairman. Apparently, the government never updated his immigration status.

Under the new federal Secure Communities program, fingerprints obtained by local police while conducting arrests are automatically shared with national authorities and compared to immigration and criminal databases. The new law has been objected to by three state governors, including New York's Andrew Cuomo. In addition to disagreeing with the U.S. policy on immigrants, some local police departments feel the new law will deter suspects from cooperating with criminal investigations.

When the plaintiff pleaded guilty to drug charges, he was sentenced to a drug rehabilitation program. But when the new database compared his fingerprints, he was flagged as an illegal alien and detained in a maximum-security prison for two months. Once the authorities figured out their mistake, he was able to complete his rehabilitation program.

The suit alleges that every time the feds share fingerprints they are violating the Privacy Act of 1974 which used to restrict what information federal agencies can share. The plaintiff is seeking unspecified damages for lost wages, emotional distress, attorney's fees and two months of "loss of liberty."

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Citizen sues over imprisonment under fingerprint-sharing program," Brian Bennett, July 6, 2012

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