The US is stepping up efforts to find and address undocumented immigrants in the US. A number of programs and laws have been passed in recent years to address the over 10 million undocumented immigrants who are estimated to be in the US. Many of the measures adopted to address the issue – including Arizona’s immigration laws and Secure Communities program, a fingerprint-sharing program between government agencies – have been very controversial. Many believe that the measures used to stop undocumented immigration in many cases are not only ineffective but may also impede the rights not only of immigrants, but also of legal US residents and citizens.
Recently, a case has been reported in the media which highlights some of the dangers of these types of programs. James Makowski is launching a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI, alleging that a fingerprint-sharing program identified him as an undocumented immigrant even though he is in fact a US citizen. Makowski says that the incorrect identification of him as an undocumented immigrant led to him being held in a maximum-security prison.
The lawsuit is the first legal challenge against the Secure Communities program by a US citizen. It is also a major embarrassment in the program, according to some experts, as the program seems to have failed completely in Makowski’s case. The Secure Communities has already garnered quite a bit of controversy and criticism, especially from Democratic candidates and immigration advocacy groups in Massachusetts, Illinoi, and New York.
The Secure Communities has been expanded across the country by the Obama administration. The program allows government agencies to share fingerprints. That is, under the program, when local authorities arrest and book a suspect, they check his or her fingerprints against FBI criminal databases as well as immigration databases. If the fingerprint check shows that the suspect has violated any immigration laws, the Secure Communities requires that US immigration agents are told about it.
According to Mark Fleming, Makowski’s attorney, Makowski’s problem began when he pleaded guilty in 2010 to selling heroin. He was sentenced to a drug treatment program. However, the Secure Communities program flagged Makowski’s fingerprints as those belonging to a undocumented immigrant. As a result, he was detained in a maximum-security prison in Illinoi for two months. It took that long for immigration officials to admit that there was a mistake and to cancel the detention order against the computer professional. After his release, Makowski completed his rehabilitation program.
Makowski was adopted by a US family when he was four months old. He was originally born in India. When he was one year old, Makowski became a US citizen. However, the immigration issue appears to have occurred because the government did not update his immigration records years ago when he became a US citizen, leading him to be listed as an undocumented immigrant in the immigration database.