CONCORD, N.H. — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against a New Hampshire city for allegedly detaining a Jordanian man on immigration violations after he helped authorities nab a suspect in another case.
In its lawsuit filed in Concord, the ACLU accuses several Exeter police officers of arresting 25-year-old Bashar Awawdeh in August on suspicion that he was an undocumented immigrant. It argues that authorities had no basis for arresting him and did not suspect he had committed any crime. It also argues that his immigration status alone does not constitute a crime.
Awawdeh, who is married to an American citizen, was handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement and detained for 26 days in Dover, New Hampshire and then Plymouth, Massachusetts. He was released on bond but is fighting deportation after he overstayed a tourist visa. He is currently living in Webster, Massachusetts.
The ACLU case sheds light on an ongoing debate within police departments in New Hampshire over their role in assisting the federal government in curbing legal and illegal immigration. State and local police have worked alongside Customs and Border Protection agents in manning an increasing number of checkpoints, including one in which a judge in May suppressed evidence against a dozen people charged with drug possession during one stop. The ACLU has sued in that case.
"When local police departments detain individuals simply due to their alleged undocumented status, they create an environment where these individuals— including victims of domestic violence— are afraid to call for help and report crimes," said Gilles Bissonnette, the ACLU-NH Legal Director and co-counsel on the case. "Local police departments need to be accessible to all members of the public, regardless of their legal status, to ensure public safety. This is what this lawsuit hopes to achieve."
The ACLU said that Awawdeh would not be speaking with the media.
The ACLU contends that Awawdeh was jailed despite working as a translator for the department. In one case, the ACLU says that Awawdeh helped the police question a suspect in an assault case who was later arrested.
Exeter Police Chief William Shupe said the lawsuit was being reviewed by legal counsel and that attorneys "will respond to the lawsuit in due course."
The ACLU wants the court to declare that Exeter's actions violated Awawdeh's the Fourth Amendment rights and award him compensation for false imprisonment.