Six people fighting deportation have the right to challenge the McCarthy-era McCarran-Walter Act under which foreigners can be deported for subversion, a Los Angeles federal court judge ruled Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson said he would decide on the constitutionality of McCarran-Walter--in effect, whether aliens have the same First Amendment rights as U.S. citizens--on Dec. 9.
Civil rights lawyers representing the aliens, who all live in the Los Angeles area, hailed the decision as a monumental step toward striking down the controversial immigration law.
“We think it’s a great victory,” said David Cole of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. “It’s incredibly important for all aliens to know if McCarran-Walter is constitutional.”
Fight to Preserve Law
Justice Department attorney Michael P. Lindemann said afterward that “we disagree” that aliens have constitutional standing to challenge McCarran-Walter, and said the government would fight to preserve the 36-year-old law.
Lindemann argued before Wilson that “the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized . . . time and time again” that aliens facing deportation hearings, which are non-criminal proceedings, do not have the same constitutional rights as U.S. citizens.
The case grew out of the arrests in January, 1987, of eight aliens--seven Jordanians and a Kenyan. They were accused, under McCarran-Walter, of advocating world communism through their alleged association with a Marxist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
All eight denied the accusation.
The aliens’ subsequent brief detention at the Terminal Island Federal Prison at the start of their deportation hearing sparked a national uproar in the Arab community and among civil rights groups.
Shortly into the deportation proceeding, the government modified its charges, accusing two of the eight with subversion and moved to deport the other six on a variety of lesser immigration violations.
Wilson’s view of McCarran-Walter’s constitutionality could sharply affect the separate deportation hearings, lawyers for the six said.
The two alleged leaders of the group facing the more serious subversion charges are Khader Hamide, 34, of Los Angeles, and Michel Shehadeh, 32, of Long Beach. They would not be immediately affected by Wilson’s decision.
In addition to the other six, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is also challenging McCarran-Walter.
The immigration hearing for all eight aliens, stalled for more than a year because of a constitutional appeal that ultimately failed, is scheduled to resume in Los Angeles on Friday.
Congress has moved in the last two years to eliminate much of McCarran-Walter’s provisions that allow the deportation of aliens because of their political views.
Even so, attorneys for the six aliens facing the lesser charges argued there was “a credible threat” that their clients could once again be charged with subversion if they openly backed the PFLP.
A highly placed Justice Department source said the much-publicized case “wasn’t planned out well” by local immigration officials and that the question of whether the aliens should be deported should be resolved as quickly as possible by an immigration judge.
“If we were to lose, I don’t think we’ll take it to the U.S. Supreme Court,” said the source. “We just want to get the facts on the table.”
The other six aliens are: Julie Mungai, the wife of Khader Hamide; Aiad Barakat of Los Angeles; Bashar Amer of Los Angeles; Amjad and Ayman Obeid of Long Beach, and Naim Sharif of Northridge.