U.S. Citizen Sues FBI for Unlawful Imprisonment Under Secure Communities Immigration Program
James Makowski of Chicago recently became the first U.S. citizen to sue the FBI and the Department of Homeland Securities after being wrongly imprisoned for two months in a maximum-security prison. He was detained due to the Secure Communities immigration enforcement program, which the Obama administration expanded nationwide against the objections of immigration advocacy groups and three Democratic governors.
In 2010, when Makowski pleaded guilty to a felony charge for selling heroin, he was sentenced to four months at a “boot camp” drug treatment program. However, the fingerprint-sharing database of the Secure Communities program incorrectly identified Makowski as an undocumented immigrant, and he was detained in the maximum-security prison in Pontiac, Illinois. After two months of detainment, immigrant officials acknowledged the error and released him, and he finished his original four months at the drug treatment program.
Makowski, Indian-born and adopted by American parents, has been a U.S. citizen since he was 1. “Everybody makes mistakes. I’ve made mine,” Makowski told the Los Angeles Times, “But if the government can detain a U.S. citizen without justification, that’s pretty outrageous. There have to be safeguards in place.”
Mark Fleming, national litigation coordinator of the National Immigrant Justice Center and co-counsel in Makowski’s case argues that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security violated his rights according to the Privacy Act of 1974:
The Privacy Act forbids the government from sharing data regarding U.S. citizens, unless it has some indication that a law is being violated. Since the launch of Secure Communities in 2008, the FBI has indiscriminately distributed the fingerprints of millions of U.S. citizens to DHS, which also stores the fingerprints in its database. Worse, as DHS has aggressively deployed Secure Communities, it has taken woefully inadequate steps to ensure the accuracy of its records or to implement simple measures to prevent U.S. citizens from being caught up in the net of immigration enforcement.
Makowski is suing the government for “loss of liberty” during his two months of detainment, as well as lost wages, emotional distress, and attorney’s fees. Brian P. Hale, a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), said government lawyers are evaluating the lawsuit, but said, “we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Makowski said he only hopes to see that his experience is not repeated, and wants the lawsuit to change the system:
If my family didn’t have the resources I don’t know where I would be. There are plenty of people who don’t have these resources.
A Chicago Reporter investigation found that many undocumented immigrants being placed in deportation had no criminal record. According to the reporter’s analysis of Homeland Security records in Illinois, 46% of 3,023 people booked into immigration custody from 2009-2011 were never charged with, or convicted of, the crimes they were arrested for.