Judge Disallows Secret Evidence as Basis for Deporting 2 Arabs : Ruling: Targets of U.S. action are regarded by the INS as members of a radical offshoot of the PLO. Court says their rights to due process were violated.
A Los Angeles federal judge ruled Tuesday that the federal government cannot use secret evidence of alleged national security concerns to deport two Arab men it accuses of supporting Palestinian terrorism.
U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson held that the Immigration & Naturalization Service violated Aiad Barakat and Naim Sharif’s rights to due process when the agency attempted to deny permanent resident alien status to them on the grounds that they are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
Wilson specified that the INS is not entitled to take such an action based solely on “classified information” it refuses to turn over to the two men.
“After much consideration, the court concludes that the use of undisclosed, confidential information violates plaintiffs’ due process rights,” Wilson wrote in a 29-page opinion.
The judge said the INS’ notices of intent to deny permanent resident status to Barakat, 33, and Sharif, 34, “offer only vague allegations” about the plaintiffs’ memberships in the PFLP, making it impossible for the two men to rebut the allegations.
Wilson said he reviewed the government’s confidential information in private and concluded that the INS could reveal some of the information it intends to use without compromising national security.
The government contended that the PFLP “advocated the economic, international and governmental doctrines of . . . world communism through written or printed publications.”
But the judge noted that the government’s secret papers do not “indicate Barakat and Sharif personally advocate the doctrines, nor does it indicate that they have personally participated in any ‘terrorist’ activity.”
Moreover, Wilson stressed that the two men “have never been charged with any crime, and there is no indication that they are violent terrorists.”
The ruling was hailed by civil libertarians.
“It’s a great decision,” said David Cole, an attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York-based group that has been waging a legal battle on behalf of the two men in concert with the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Lawyers Guild.
“The ruling means that immigrants have the same right to confront charges the government attempts to use against them that citizens do,” Cole said. “That is a very important principle. Everyone in the United States is entitled to due process.”
Cole, who teaches at Georgetown University Law School, said Wilson’s decision “also calls into question a Clinton Administration proposal to conduct secret deportation proceedings for alleged alien terrorists.”
Such a measure passed the U.S. Senate last year as part of crime legislation, Cole said, but that part of the bill foundered in the House of Representatives. “Judge Wilson’s decision says such a measure would be unconstitutional,” he said.
His co-counsel, Marc Van der Hout, a San Francisco-based attorney with the National Lawyers Guild, said: “One of the most important parts of the decision is Judge Wilson’s recognition that secrecy is not congenial to the truth. The judge said that does not comport with the American system of justice.”
Tuesday’s ruling--the latest of several setbacks Wilson has dealt to the government in the case--came in an 8-year-old civil rights lawsuit against the INS, which is trying to deport seven Palestinian men and a Kenyan woman alleged to have ties to the PFLP.
Since the government launched attempts to deport members in 1987, the group--known as “the L.A. 8"--has become a cause celebre for civil libertarians.
All eight, who have denied membership in the PFLP, were arrested under the Mc-Carran-Walter Act, a McCarthy-era law allowing deportation of any immigrant who advocates Communist doctrines.
In 1988, Wilson struck down as unconstitutional key provisions of that law, holding that alien residents have the same broad free speech rights as citizens.
Subsequently, the George Bush Administration accused Barakat and Sharif of belonging to a terrorist organization under a 1990 law that replaced McCarran-Walter.
Cole said the decision does not ensure that his clients will get to stay in the United States. But he said the government “will have to play fair if they want to kick them out.”
Observers said the INS now must turn the secret information over to the plaintiffs and move ahead with its case or turn up other evidence to prevent them from becoming permanent legal residents.
Justice Department attorneys declined to return calls seeking comment.
The other six members of the L.A. 8, who had temporary legal status, are not affected by Tuesday’s ruling. They were accused of violating the terms of their visas on various grounds.
Barakat and Sharif, along with four of the other six, also are battling government efforts to deport them on the grounds that the INS is selectively prosecuting them. That case also is pending before Wilson.