March 16, 2013

Officials: Toss suit by U.S. citizen held as possible illegal immigrant

A judge wonders whether a person born in the U.S. would have been detained in a similar situation.

The Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Federal and state officials on Friday asked a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of a U.S. citizen who says she was illegally detained as a possible illegal immigrant.

Ada Morales, of North Providence, says her constitutional rights were violated when she was detained in 2009 for about a day at the state prison. Morales, who was born in Guatemala and became a citizen in 1995, says she told authorities she was a citizen but was held anyway.

Her lawyers told U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell that it happened because of her national origin and Hispanic name, which violated her right to equal protection under the law, among other rights.

The Department of Justice argued officials did not know she claimed to be a citizen, and her name did not turn up in a search of people who had entered the country legally, in part because she did not tell them her maiden name, under which she was granted citizenship.

The state said it was trying to comply with federal law.

McConnell did not rule on any of the requests, but expressed concern about whether a U.S.-born citizen would have been deprived of her liberty under similar circumstances.

"Ms. Morales is a U.S. citizen. She's been a U.S. citizen since 1995. She has a right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. It's basic constitutional law," McConnell said.

Morales was detained after she was arrested in 2009, by State Police for food stamps fraud.

She has since pleaded no contest and is on probation.

Morales said in her lawsuit that she told state police she was born in Guatemala and is a U.S. citizen, then was taken to the state prison.

Morales' husband offered to show her passport to prove her citizenship, but the judge said it was beyond her jurisdiction and she would have to take it up with immigration authorities.

The judge did not say when he would rule.


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