LOS ANGELES (Dec. 28)
Arab-Americans are hailing a decision by a federal judge who ruled that immigrants have a right of free speech, even when that right is at odds with the government’s right to control immigration.
The judge’s ruling here last Thursday invalidated the legal basis of a government deportation case against seven Palestinians and a Kenyan woman, who were arrested on charges of membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The case, however, has drawn national attention well beyond the Arab community.
The outcome has been greeted as a civil rights landmark, which extends the free speech guarantees of the Constitution’s First Amendment to all aliens and immigrants in the United States.
The seven Palestinian men, traveling on Jordanian passports, and the Kenyan wife of one of them, are residents of the Los Angeles area who are or were enrolled in local colleges.
They were arrested Jan. 26, 1987. by agents of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, FBI and Los Angeles police.
The were charged with being members of the PFLP, advocating international communism, the destruction of property and posing a risk to national security.
The allegations, denied by all the defendants, were based on an FBI study which described the PFLP, a radical, Marxist offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization, as “one of the most ruthless terrorist groups of modern times.” The PFLP is led by Dr. George Habash.
The government brought its charges under provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act of 1952.
That law was passed during the height of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s anti-communist crusade, and has long been an anathema to civil rights advocates.
Shortly after the arrests, the government reduced charges against six defendants to lesser visa violations, which, however, can still lead to deportations.
PFLP’S L.A. LEADERS
That left the two most important members of the group: Khader Musa Hamide, 34, a native of Bethlehem, and described by federal authorities as a “dominant leader” of the PFLP, and Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh, 32, born in the West Bank village of Bir Zeit, identified as a “leader of the PFLP in the Los Angeles area.”
They were recharged under another provision of the McCarran-Walter Act that prohibits advocacy of “unlawful damage, injury or destruction of property.” It was this loosely drawn provision that was declared unconstitutional by U.S. District Judge Stephen Wilson.
“In this case,” the judge noted, “the government is trying to stifle certain ideas from entering our society from certain aliens through its immigration power.”
Wilson, who was appointed by President Reagan in 1985, added that his ruling would in no way hinder the United States from using other existing laws to combat terrorism and threats to national security.
Justice Department prosecutors announced that they will appeal the judge’s decision to a higher court.