U.S. Can't Deport O.C. Man to Jordan

Times Staff Writer

A Buena Park man accused of funneling millions of dollars to the Palestinian group Hamas was ordered deported Tuesday by an immigration judge.

However, the U.S. immigration judge, D.D. Sitgraves, blocked the government from deporting Abdel-Jabbar Hamdan to his native Jordan because his alleged ties to Hamas might put him at risk of torture and persecution.

Hamdan, who is married with six U.S.-born children, was arrested last summer in an FBI investigation of the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity that allegedly raised money for Hamas, which the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. He worked as a fundraiser for the charity from the early 1990s until the government shut it down in 2001, following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Immigration officials said he had been in the United States illegally on a student visa issued 25 years ago. He has been held without bond since his arrest in July.

"I'm very upset with the judge's ruling about his connections to Hamas," said Marc Van Der Hout, Hamdan's attorney. "It has no basis in law. My client is not a member of Hamas."

A decision has not been made what country to deport Hamdan to. The government and Hamdan have 30 days to appeal the decision.

During Hamdan's deportation hearing, immigration officials showed a videotape of Hamdan speaking at a 1996 fundraiser with a Hamas flag in the background, said William Odencrantz, top lawyer for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Laguna Niguel.

In the video, others could be heard talking about jihad and martyrs, and there were AK-47 rifles on display, Odencrantz said.

Sitgraves used the evidence to contradict Hamdan's defense that he did not know money raised by the Holy Land Foundation was going to Hamas.

"Our laws prohibit aliens who are living here as our guests to use this country as a base to advocate terrorism or raise money for terrorist causes," according to a statement released by immigration officials.

Sitgraves' ruling is another example of the prejudice against Muslims in the United States and was based on "hearsay upon hearsay and innuendo upon innuendo," Van Der Hout said.

Hamdan, who was born in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, was arrested along with the Holy Land Foundation's president, chairman, and director of endowments, who were charged with terrorism-related crimes.

A federal judge in Dallas ordered the three foundation officers freed, ruling in August that prosecutors failed to prove they were a threat to national security. An attorney for the Holy Land Foundation said the charity did not support terrorism.

Hamdan, 44, was not charged with terrorism, but in December, Sitgraves ordered him held without bond while she reviewed the government's deportation case.

She cited Hamdan's membership in the Islamic Assn. for Palestine, a group she said would have a "pre-designation in the future" as terrorists.

Van Der Hout tried, but failed, to have Sitgraves removed from the case. The government never alleged Hamdan was a member of the group, and the Islamic Assn. for Palestine has not been designated a terrorist organization, he said.

Hamdan, a USC graduate with a degree in civil engineering, was the first of three Orange County Islamic religious leaders arrested last year on suspicion of immigration violations. Each man was held without bond when the government alleged terrorist connections.

One of the three, Wagdy Mohamed Ghoneim of Anaheim, chose to leave the United States voluntarily last month.

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