A computer specialist is suing the FBI and Department of Homeland Security after a controversial fingerprint-sharing program incorrectly identified him as an illegal immigrant and authorities ordered him detained in a maximum-security prison, reports the Los Angeles Times. It is the first legal challenge by a U.S. citizen to the Secure Communities program, which the Obama administration has expanded nationwide over the objections of immigration advocacy groups and Democratic governors in Illinois, New York, and Massachusetts.
In the program, fingerprints obtained when local authorities arrest a suspect are checked against immigration databases as well as FBI criminal databases. U.S. immigration agents are notified if the results indicate an immigration violation. When James Makowski, a Chicago-area resident who repairs computer networks, pleaded guilty in 2010 to selling heroin, he was sentenced to four months in a drug treatment “boot camp.” When the fingerprint search flagged him as an illegal immigrant, he was held for two months in a maximum-security prison before officials acknowledged the error and canceled the detention order. He completed drug rehab program and was released. “Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mine,” said Makowski, 24. “But if the government can detain a U.S. citizen without justification, that’s pretty outrageous. There have to be safeguards in place.”