December 18, 2003
Immigrant Groups Sue Ashcroft
by John Marzulli
Five immigrant advocacy groups filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday accusing top federal law enforcement officials of illegally adding thousands of noncitizens' names to the FBI's criminal database.
The suit charges that the policy, ordered by U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, attempts to "induce" local cops to make arrests for noncriminal immigration violations.
The database, known as the National Crime Information Center, is accessed nearly 4 million times daily by local cops nationwide to determine if a person stopped for a traffic violation or some other reason is wanted for a crime.
"This is another example of how the Justice Department in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks has sought to make immigrants as deportable as possible, and sought to enlist local law enforcement in the effort," said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, which is part of the plaintiffs' legal team.
According to the complaint filed in Brooklyn Federal Court, the records of about 19,000 people nationwide who are facing deportation for a variety of reasons have been added. They include noncitizens who have overstayed their visas or failed to report change of address – all noncriminal matters.
The suit also alleges that names of Middle Eastern men who failed to register with the government under the controversial National Security Entry-Exit Registration System also are being added to the database.
The NYPD has a "don't ask, don't tell" policy on reporting illegal aliens unless the noncitizen is suspected of criminal activity.
An Ashcroft spokesman had no immediate comment on the allegations.