Doctor Ricky Chadda is in a holding cell in San Diego. He's been there for the past four days, ever since he was arrested by immigration authorities. His arrest appears to be a bureacratic mixup, but his family says the decision to jail him may be something more: racism.

Dr. Chadda was born in Moncton, grew up in Halifax, and graduated from Dalhousie Medical School. For the past five years, the 33-year-old has been working in emergency rooms in the United States.

Two weeks ago, American border guards confiscated his green card at Pearson Airport, as he was returning to California from Halifax.

Last Thursday, Chadda went to the immigration office with the necessary papers to get his green card back, and that's when the real trouble began.

"They put him in handcuffs," says Chadda's mother, Daljeet Chadda. "Can you imagine! I have never seen Ricky in that situation, and I just say, Holy cow, what is happening?"

Dr. Chadda and his family believe he was jailed because of a mixup: he has the same name as a suspected car thief. Chadda cleared his name in court last year, but apparently his file wasn't cleared.

On top of that bureaucratic problem, Chadda's fiancee and his mother suspect he is being treated more harshly because he's a member of a visible minority.

"He looks like a middle east person," says his mother. "He gave fingerprints, showed his Canadian passport. They are harassing him for nothing."

Chadda has been told he could spend up to 14 days in jail.

Chadda's family says he is very upset by what's happening, and by the prospect of spending more time in jail, surrounded by criminals and people being deported to Mexico.

American authorities did not return calls from CBC News.

The Canadian government is working on the case, and the consulate in Los Angeles is hoping for a speedy resolution.