Correction: Immigration Detention-Lawsuit story

March 15, 2013, 7:41 am

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — In a story March 15 about a lawsuit brought by a U.S. citizen who says she was illegally detained as a possible illegal immigrant, The Associated Press erroneously attributed the following comment: "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." The comment was from Kate Desormeau of the American Civil Liberties Union, not U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell.

A corrected version of the story is below:

Immigration officials want RI lawsuit dismissed

Immigration officials seeking dismissal of US citizen's lawsuit over alleged illegal detention


Associated Press

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — 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," said Kate Desormeau, of the ACLU.

Morales was detained after she was arrested Friday, May 1, 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. State authorities also sent her name and country of birth to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Morales was held that weekend at the state prison, then went before a judge on Monday. The judge ordered her released on personal recognizance in the state benefits fraud case, but told Morales at that time that ICE had issued an immigration detainer against her. 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 lawsuit says Morales was then sent back to the state prison, strip searched and held overnight even though there was no legal reason to keep her. The following day, May 5, ICE took her into custody and released her.

Morales said that in 2004 she was also wrongly held overnight on an immigration detainer. She said an ICE official told her after the 2009 detention the same thing could happen again in the future.

Lawyers for the government pointed out that the name on Morales' naturalization certificate was Ada Amavilia Cabrera, and that it was her responsibility to change that when she got married. They said they have since changed their database to include her married name.

Melissa S. Leibman, a Department of Justice lawyer who represents Edward Donaghy, the ICE officer who signed the immigration detainer and sent it to Rhode Island officials, said Morales' detention was not just based on the fact that she was born in Guatemala, but also because there was no record that she entered the country legally.

Lawyers for the officials also argued that they had immunity from being sued because they believed there was probable cause to detain Morales.

"A reasonable officer would have believed that his conduct was lawful," Leibman said, adding later, "If there are flaws in the system, my client should not be held responsible for those flaws."

The ACLU argued that authorities ignored Morales' protests that she was a citizen. They said prisoners should immediately be told when they are under an immigration detainer and be given a way to contest them.

The judge did not say when he would rule.

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