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Outstanding Editorial on LA 8 Case in Today’s O.C. Register

The following excellent editorial appears in today’s (2/25/99) issue of the Orange County Register on yesterday’s atrocious Supreme Court ruling in ADC v. Reno, the “LA 8” case. The Register can be congratulated by writing to Orange County Register 625 North Grand Avenue Santa Ana, CA 92701-4347 or faxing to (714) 565-3681 Immigrants as targets Orange County Register February 25, 1999 The U.S. Supreme Court’s 8-1 ruling Wednesday, bolstering the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s ongoing attempt to deport several Los Angeles-area immigrants, dealt a devastating blow to the idea that legal immigrants have the same free-speech rights as U.S. citizens.
And by endorsing the idea that foreign nationals have no right to make legal claims of “selective enforcement” of U.S. immigration law, the court has given federal officials broad authority to target immigrants for deportation based on the flimsiest reasons.
This exceedingly complex case, involving a variety of procedural and jurisdictional issues, stems from a 1987 effort by the INS to deport a group known as the L.A. Eight — seven Palestinians and a Kenyan accused by the government of aiding and abetting an international terrorist organization. All eight were in the country legally.
One member of the group, Michel Shehadeh of Garden Grove, previously recounted to us how 13 INS agents raided his Long Beach apartment with guns drawn while he was with his 3-year-old son. Yet in the 12 years since that frightening event, federal authorities have provided no evidence substantiating their terrorism charges against those individuals.
The group’s members never belonged to any terrorist group, Mr. Shehadeh told us this week. He said he “abhors terrorism,” but was merely involved in political activism on behalf of Palestinian rights. And he believes the authorities are picking on “the weakest link in the civil liberties chain… .” They’ll “just kick out some Palestinians and claim terrorism. And use us to start the legal precedent and use it against anybody.”
Essentially, the government has been trying to keep the group from raising constitutional issues, such as a First Amendment right to free speech, in their defense. Which means their defense against INS charges has been confined to immigration hearings or appellate courts, where procedural rather than constitutional issues are the focus.
The Supreme Court overturned an appeals court verdict that had halted the government’s deportation actions. The high court made an 8-1 jurisdictional ruling — that aliens may not bring selective-enforcement claims before federal courts. And then, by a separate 5-4 vote, it made a substantive ruling vastly limiting any selective-enforcement claims. What especially rankles the L.A. Eight’s supporters is that the court made the latter ruling even though it had restricted legal arguments to jurisdictional issues. “If you’re being deported for your political beliefs, essentially the way in which you would challenge that is by making a claim of selective enforcement,” Hussein Ibish told us; he is the media director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the Washington-based group that brought the case on behalf of the L.A. Eight.
“In other words, [you say] that you’re being targeted by a bunch of laws and provisions that exist, but are not enforced generally. But when someone comes along whose political views the government doesn’t agree with, these things are dusted off and hauled out. That would be the standard way in which the government would seek to silence noncitizens.”
What does this mean for noncitizens? If the government decides to start deportation proceedings, noncitizens have virtually no right to take their case to federal court. And since the Supreme Court has given the government broad latitude in trying to deport them, noncitizens could be targeted for speaking out on political causes.
Writing for the majority, Justice Antonin Scalia argued that the government “should not have to disclose its ‘real’ reasons for deeming nationals of a particular country a special threat — or indeed for simply wishing to antagonize a particular foreign country by focusing on that country’s nationals.”
That, according to ADC’s Mr. Ibish, allows immigration officials to target certain groups of unfavored immigrants for “undisclosed political reasons.” And it will undoubtedly put a chill on political expression in America’s immigrant communities.
It’s a deeply troubling ruling that could lead to wide injustices against people who are in the country legally, but not citizens. For instance, although Mr. Shehadeh’s legal options may have not all been closed, he may eventually face deportation, which could separate him from his wife and family, who are citizens.
One remedy now is that Congress address the issue directly, by restoring to legal immigrants their ability to defend their free-speech rights in the federal courts.