PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — A federal judge has determined a naturalized U.S. citizen’s constitutional rights were violated when she was held on an immigration detainer and gave her lawsuit against state and federal officials the greenlight.
In an order signed Wednesday, U.S. District Judge John McConnell said federal immigration officials had no probable cause to issue the detainer for Ada Morales, and therefore her Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures were violated.
The judge said Morales, who was detained after being arrested by state police in a benefits fraud case in 2009, could go ahead with several claims against officials at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections.
‘‘The detainer specifically states that Ms. Morales should be held solely because an investigation of her status in the United States has been initiated,’’ McConnell wrote. ‘‘The fact that an investigation has been initiated is not enough to establish probable cause because the Fourth Amendment does not permit seizures for mere investigations.’’
McConnell also found state officials violated the constitution because the only fact they used in deciding whether to detain her was that she was born in another country. He pointed out that there are more than 17 million United States citizens who were born abroad and that single fact is not enough to lead a ‘‘prudent person’’ to believe she was in the country illegally.
‘‘Therefore the court finds that initiating an investigation and detaining an individual based solely on his/her national origin violates the United States constitution,’’ McConnell wrote.
Daniel Modricker, a spokesman for ICE, said the agency does not comment on ongoing litigation. Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island attorney general’s office, said they are reviewing the decision ‘‘and will prepare to defend a case in which all the state did was obey ICE’s detainer.’’
Morales’s lawsuit says the detention was solely based on her national origin and Hispanic last name, and the judge said she could pursue those claims.
After her arrest, Morales says she told state police she was born in Guatemala and is a U.S. citizen, then was taken to the state prison. After she was ordered released in the benefits fraud case, she was held for a little more than 24 hours while immigration officials investigated whether she was in the country illegally.
The government has said the name on Morales’ naturalization certificate was Ada Amavilia Cabrera, and that it was her responsibility to change that when she got married.
Morales, who became a U.S. citizen in 1995, said that in 2004 she was also wrongly held overnight on an immigration detainer. Federal officials have said her name has since been changed in the database.