In 2008, the federal government launched a program known as Secure Communities, which requires that fingerprints obtained during arrests are crosschecked with immigration databases as well as the FBI criminal databases. The goal of the program is to flag immigrants who are in the country illegally and guilty of committing crimes.
However, the system is controversial because it can lead to prison time and deportation proceedings over minor violations. The system is also imperfect, so it is possible that American citizens could be wrongfully detained for being in the country illegally.
This is exactly what happened to a Chicago-area man who is now suing the federal government over what he says was unlawful imprisonment. The 24-year-old computer specialist pleaded guilty to a drug felony in 2010 and was sentenced to four months at a drug treatment "boot camp" program.
Before being sent off to boot camp, though, the man was flagged as an illegal immigrant when his fingerprints were sent through the system, and he was held for two months in a maximum-security prison. Finally, immigration officials acknowledged the mistake and the detention order was cancelled.
The 24-year-old said he was born in India and adopted by a New Jersey family when he was a baby, and the family eventually moved to Illinois. The man became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of 1, but according to the man's lawyer, the federal government did not update his immigration records.
The man is now suing the FBI and Department of Homeland Security for violating the Privacy Act of 1974, which limits the information that may be passed between government agencies, so long as they are sharing fingerprints from people who are not suspected of being in the country illegally.
This is the first lawsuit that challenges the Secure Communities program on the basis of the Privacy Act of 1974, and it could have far-reaching consequences. Check back later this week for more on this important issue.
Source: LA Times, "Citizen sues over imprisonment under fingerprint-sharing program," Brian Bennett, July 6, 2012