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National crime information center database

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Lawsuit alleges national crime database unfairly targets immigrants

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Immigrant and ethnic minority groups sued Wednesday to stop the federal government from entering immigration data into a national crime database, saying the practice illegally targets immigrants under the guise of post-Sept. 11 security.

Congress authorized the database, the National Crime Information Center, in 1930 as a clearinghouse for local, state, federal and international criminal records. It typically is used for criminal records such as warrants and "rap sheets,'' according to the lawsuit.

But since Sept. 11, the lawsuit says, the Bush administration has entered immigration data such as orders of deportation.

The lawsuit asks a federal judge to block entry of such records and to erase the thousands of civil immigration records that already have been entered.

Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge and FBI Director Robert Mueller are named as defendants.

The Bush administration has repeatedly said its post-Sept. 11 security measures, including tougher enforcement of immigration laws, are vital to preventing terrorism. Officials with the Justice and Homeland Security departments did not immediately return calls for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit, filed by several groups, argues that the policy has resulted in unlawful arrests and fear of authorities among immigrant communities.

"We are not in any way arguing that the federal government does not have the right to enforce federal immigration law,'' said Lee Gelernt, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. "But we don't believe the local police can be legally enforcing civil immigration law.''


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AP-ES-12-17-03 1540EST

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