A North Carolina man in the country under the DACA program filed a lawsuit against Northwood police on Wednesday claiming he was illegally detained for more than two hours when police stopped him and two others for walking down the road while on a work break.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court on behalf of Johoani Velasco Perea.

The lawsuit is the third filed by the ACLU-New Hampshire Immigration Rights Project, and it seeks monetary damages on Perea’s behalf.

The ACLU said Northwood police stopped the three late in the evening of Sept. 21 when walking toward Harding Metals Inc., where they were building a carport.

They had walked to a nearby convenience store to buy food. Police department reports described the three as “Hispanic” and “suspicious,” the ACLU said.

“I think it is racial profiling,” said Henry Klementowicz, staff attorney for the ACLU-NH and co-counsel on the case.

“Here, there was no reason to believe that Mr. Velasco Perea was in the United States unlawfully, especially given his explanation that he was documented and his valid North Carolina driver’s license.”

Klemetowicz said Perea participates in the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, and is in the country legally. One of his two companions was eventually deported, Klemetowicz said.

“Respectfully, I have no comment,” Northwood Police Chief Glen Drolet wrote in an email.

The ACLU faulted the Northwood police for detaining the three despite an “obvious absence of criminal behavior.”

Police detained Perea because they suspected he was in the country illegally but had no basis for their suspicion other than his Hispanic race, the ACLU said.

The Immigration Rights Project has sued Exeter police, claiming they illegally arrested a Jordanian immigrant in August.

Police arrested Bashar Awawdeh and held him for federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials even after he helped them solve a crime. Awawdeh had overstayed his visa.

The ACLU-NH has also initiated legal proceedings against ICE after it jailed a Somali refugee, Abdigani Faisal Hussein, because he has a 16-year-old conviction on his record for possession of khat, a plant local to East Africa.

He has been in jail since March.

“Unfortunately, many local police departments in New Hampshire routinely assume the role of immigration enforcement by engaging in the unlawful detention of immigrants,” said SangYeob Kim, the ACLU-NH’s Immigration Legal Fellow and co-counsel on the case.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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