- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 17, 2003

Several pro-immigration and civil rights groups yesterday filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the government from entering immigration information into a national crime database, saying the data is being misused in the wake of the September 11 attacks on America.

Filed in U.S. District Court in New York, the suit says the Justice Department and the FBI unlawfully entered civil immigration information into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), accessed by state and local police millions of times each day. Thus, the action subjects immigrants to the risk of unlawful arrest by state and local police.

The suit also questions the authority of Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Justice Department to enlist state and local police in the enforcement of federal immigration laws.

“Co-opting state and local police to make immigration arrests undermines public safety and encourages racial profiling,” said Raul Yzaguirre, president and chief executive officer of the National Council of La Raza, one of the suit’s plaintiffs.

“It makes immigrant victims and witnesses afraid to report crimes and assist police investigations, diverts law enforcement resources from other policing priorities, and entangles untrained officers in the complexities of immigration law.”

Other parties to the suit include the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Latin American Workers Project, New York Immigration Coalition and Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE).

Oscar Paredes of the Latin American Workers Project said the policy “encourages every local cop on the beat to make immigrant arrests,” while UNITE President Bruce Raynor said “hard-working but vulnerable immigrant workers and their families are intimidated by any contact with local law enforcement authorities.”

The NCIC database, which includes more than 40 million felons, fugitives and others being sought by federal law enforcement, was expanded after the September 11 attacks to include immigrant criminals who failed to show up for their deportation hearings.

It also includes thousands of immigrants who registered with the government under the “special registration” program, which requires that foreign visitors from designated countries register when they enter the United States. NCIC is used by 80,000 law enforcement agencies across the country.

Mr. Ashcroft has said that under the special registration program, authorities have detained eight suspected terrorists, including one known member of al Qaeda.

Dan Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), praised the decision to expand a national database to enable state and local law enforcement officials to identify and apprehend known criminals and illegal aliens as “an essential step to real homeland security” and an “invaluable tool in the effort to combat terrorism in the United States.”

Mr. Stein noted that several of the September 11 terrorists had direct contact with local law enforcement officials before the attacks, and the lack of a central, accessible database made identifying them impossible.

“One of the direct contributing factors to the success of the September terrorists was the government’s failure to collect and share information that might have foiled the attacks,” he said. “If we maintain a policy of willful blindness, by erecting firewalls to protect people who are in the country illegally, then we are courting another terrorist attack.”

Mr. Stein said final orders of deportation have been issued for 400,000 alien absconders, but they cannot be located.

Since these names have begun to be entered into the NCIC database, 5,000 have been removed from the United States, including 4,200 with felony convictions, he said.

The lawsuit wants the government barred from entering immigration records into NCIC and the removal of the thousands of entries compiled since September 11. It says Congress strictly limited the power of local and state police to make immigration arrests by requiring them to, among other things, receive formal training in federal immigration law before undertaking general immigration enforcement activities.

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