U.S. Told To End Effort To Deport Palestinians

20-year case called 'embarrassment'

Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 31, 2007

An immigration judge ordered an end Tuesday to immigration officials' 20-year effort to deport two Palestinians for supporting an organization in the 1980s that later was placed on the U.S. terrorist list, saying the government defied court orders to produce evidence that might have helped the men defend themselves.

In dismissing deportation proceedings against two members of the so-called "LA 8," Immigration Judge Bruce Einhorn, who held his first hearing in the case in 1992, said the government's handling of the case has been "an embarrassment to the rule of law.

The case of seven Palestinians and a Kenyan, arrested in 1987 by FBI and immigration agents in Los Angeles, has drawn national attention from immigrants rights groups and a determined effort by a succession of federal administrations to make the charges stick.

Einhorn and other judges have ordered dismissal of some or all of the deportation counts before, and the government has reinstated the charges by getting Congress to change the immigration laws, said Marc Van Der Hout, a National Lawyers Guild attorney representing the Palestinians in Tuesday's case.

None of the eight has ever been deported. One became a U.S. citizen, and most of the others are legal permanent residents, including Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, the subjects of Tuesday's ruling.

"I very much hope this is the end of this case,'' said Van Der Hout. "It's been 20 years of a disgraceful prosecution.'' He said neither his clients nor any of their colleagues have ever been accused of crimes or terrorist acts in conjunction with the case.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security branch now prosecuting the case, issued a statement saying it "finds the judge's decision troubling as a matter of fact and law'' and is considering its legal options. The agency could appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals, whose members, like Einhorn and other immigration judges, are Justice Department appointees.

Hamide and Shehadeh, now in their early 50s, were accused along with the others of violating their immigrant status by supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which has been on the State Department's list of terrorist groups since 1997.

Van Der Hout said the two men's activities, which took place from 1984 to 1986, consisted of speaking at rallies, dinners and charity fundraisers in support of the organization's goal of a Palestinian homeland.

If the deportation case went to trial, Van Der Hout said, Hamide and Shehadeh would argue that none of their support for the organization promoted any terrorist activity or was intended to do so.

The judge noted Tuesday that one of his predecessors in the case first ordered the government in February 1987 to disclose any evidence that might help the two men, standard procedure in such cases.

Einhorn said he issued a series of increasingly specific disclosure orders between 1992 and 2005, none of which has produced compliance. In response to his last order, he said, the government filed documents nine months after the deadline he had set, including a letter from a Homeland Security attorney purporting to narrow his definitions of the material to be produced and denying any obligation to provide information that could not be made public.

The judge said the agency has forfeited its right to continue the case by its "gross failure to comply'' with legal directives.

"The effect of the government's defiance of this court has been to prejudice (the defendants') constitutional right to a fundamentally fair hearing, and to erode public confidence in the authority of this court to conduct deportation proceedings'' as the law intended, Einhorn said.