- Associated Press - Sunday, May 11, 2014

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - A federal magistrate judge has ordered settlement talks in a civil rights lawsuit brought by a U.S. citizen who was held on an immigration detainer while officials investigated whether she was in the country illegally. The American Civil Liberties Union says the case shows immigration detainers are being illegally used as a “dragnet.”

Ada Morales, a naturalized citizen born in Guatemala, is suing state and federal officials over her detention, which happened after she was arrested by Rhode Island State Police in a benefits fraud case in 2009. She was taken to the state prison. Later, she was ordered released, but she says she was held for a little more than 24 hours while immigration officials investigated whether she was in the country illegally.

U.S. District Judge John McConnell in February said that federal immigration officials had no probable cause to issue the detainer and that her Fourth Amendment rights protecting her from unreasonable searches and seizures were violated. He allowed her lawsuit to go forward.

Morales is being represented by the ACLU in the lawsuit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, as well as some of those agencies’ employees.

“These detainers are being used to keep people in jail so that ICE can figure out who they are,” said Kate Desormeau, an ACLU staff attorney. “It’s so at odds with our constitutional system. The government can’t put you in jail just to figure out if it wants you.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond this month ordered all the sides to meet June 5 for a settlement conference.

Morales’s lawsuit says the detention was solely based on her national origin and Hispanic last name. Morales‘ lawyers say she was wrongly detained in 2004, and she fears it could happen again.

The federal government has said it happened because Morales gave them her married name, not the name on her naturalization certificate, which wasn’t changed after she got married. The state says it was simply obeying a detainer issued by ICE and has filed a cross-claim demanding that if it is found liable, the federal government be held responsible for paying all or part of the amount.

Meanwhile, three ICE employees have indicated in court papers that they plan to appeal McConnell’s decision that they may be sued individually and do not have qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects public officials from being sued while performing their official duties unless they violated a constitutional right that was clearly established at the time.