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U.S. Citizen Sues After Erroneously Being Held As An Undocumented Immigrant

A U.S. citizen is suing the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security after the fingerprint-sharing program Secure Communities incorrectly identified him as an undocumented immigrant. When Chicago resident James Makowski pleaded guilty in December 2010 to a felony charge and sentenced to four months at a drug treatment facility, the controversial program flagged Makowski as an undocumented immigrant, and he spent two months in a maximum-security prison before immigration officials stopped his erroneous deportation order.

Makowski’s lawsuit — the first legal challenge to Secure Communities — “argues that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security violated the Privacy Act of 1974” because the government agencies share fingerprints from people who are suspected of immigration violations:

“The FBI and DHS are consistently and systematically violating the Privacy Act,” said Fleming, a lawyer for the National Immigrant Justice Center, a nonprofit advocacy group in Chicago. “The FBI should not be sharing this data if they have indications that this individual is a U.S. citizen.” […]

Secure Communities was started by President George W. Bush in 2008, and the FBI has sent more than 16 million fingerprints to the immigration database since then. More than 900,000 were flagged as potential immigration violators, records show.

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The other 15 million sets of fingerprints likely belonged to U.S. citizens, the lawsuit alleges, and their transmission violates the Privacy Act.

As the Los Angeles Times reports, only 26 of Illinois’ 102 police jurisdictions participate in Secure Communities, and some departments were concerned that sharing fingerprints with immigration officials would make witnesses less likely to cooperate with police. Some officials are limiting the scope of Secure Communities in their areas. The D.C. city council unanimously approved a bill to reduce the ability to enforce Secure Communities by limiting when D.C. law enforcement must hold individuals at the request of immigration officials, and Chicago’s Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) announced yesterday that he will propose a similar ordinance.