When it was suggested his behavior was seditious, Mezei lashed out from the witness stand. "I was not!" he said. "Prove it!"
Others said they never heard leftist talk from Mezei, and that he was more likely to be shooting pool at Hamilton Hall than inciting insurrection.
Reed, the Communist leader, said that Mezei was not much of a party member. He said Mezei turned out to be lazy.
"In his Communist activities," Reed told the INS, "why, the way I would characterize him is as being unreliable."
Although he couldn't reenter the United States, Mezei could go somewhere else. But where?
He thought his birth in British waters off Gibraltar might help make him a British subject, and he convinced U.S. authorities to take him there. But as his boat entered the port at Plymouth, England, the British government said no. They did not want someone the United States deemed a threat.
Twice he was taken to France, and each time the French denied him entry.
He was returned to the prison at Ellis Island, where he fired off letters to a dozen countries in Latin America. All said no. How could they accept him, not knowing why he was so dangerous?
Mezei didn't have citizenship anywhere. The State Department told the Hungarians that he was their problem, but Hungary refused to take him. He said he didn't ask to return to Eastern Europe because he feared the Communist Party there would view him as a U.S. spy.
In November 1951, U.S. District Judge Irving R. Kaufman in New York rejected the government's position that Mezei did not have the right to due process because he was on Ellis Island and not on the U.S. mainland.
Kaufman ordered Mezei released immediately, unless the government could convince him that Mezei was indeed a danger. When federal officials refused to cooperate, he ridiculed the suggestion that "releasing this alien from detention will bring a flood of enemy agents, spies, saboteurs, madmen, homicidal maniacs and lepers down upon us."
The government appealed and lost again, this time before the 2nd Circuit. The government appealed higher and Mezei was briefly paroled to Buffalo.
In the Supreme Court building in Washington, working in a first-floor cubicle, one of the first to study the case was Rehnquist, then 28 and just out of Stanford Law School.
In his memo, Rehnquist embraced an earlier dissent by Judge Learned Hand of the 2nd Circuit. Hand had maintained that Mezei could not "force us to admit him" into this country and that "he must find an asylum elsewhere; or, like the Flying Dutchman, forever sail the seas."
Rehnquist said Congress already had provided that noncitizens like Mezei were "excludible without hearing" and that "if Congress plainly said that all aliens with green hair shall be excluded, I know of nothing in the Constitution which would prevent them."
Then he wrote, "This alien is detained on Ellis Island by the government simply because he is unable to go to any other country. He is perfectly free to get on the first outbound boat that comes along."
The Supreme Court narrowly reversed the lower court ruling, holding that the attorney general could indeed exclude someone without a hearing if the disclosure of confidential information would be "prejudicial to the public interest."
And the high court determined that "harborage at Ellis Island is not an entry into the United States."
In the current cases, the government is equating Ellis Island then with Guantanamo Bay now, arguing that it can hold the Guantanamo Bay detainees without charges or trial because Cuba is not part of U.S. soil. Though the prison is on a U.S. naval base there, Washington maintains that it merely leases the property from the Cuban government.
But the detainees argue otherwise. They note that courts-martial have been held on Guantanamo Bay for Navy personnel and say it is simply unfair, as in Mezei's case, to confine people indefinitely without a right to due process in the courts.
The petitions are on behalf of 12 Kuwaiti men who claim they were doing charity work in the Afghanistan region when they were captured during the war there, and a second group of two British and two Australian prisoners who also say they were not enemy combatants but had gone to the area for personal reasons when they were seized.
Mezei, free while the government appealed, was returned to Ellis Island in April 1953 after the high court's decision. Guards at the prison were glad to have him back. They paid him 10 cents an hour for doing odd jobs. Guards thought him "a nice man," and the pool table needed mending and couches in the recreation room were in disrepair.
The following year, as the government prepared to shut down Ellis Island, the Eisenhower administration quietly released Mezei, "pending further consideration of his case."
There was no explanation, and Mezei did not wait to hear one. He cashed out his meager prison savings and purchased a train ticket to Buffalo. Three months later, the Ellis Island facility was closed for good.
After the death of his wife, he returned to the old country and lived alone outside the capital city of Budapest until he died in the 1970s. His nephew, John Mezey of Miami, has gone there to visit but could not find the grave.