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And then there were two

The federal government should end its decades-long fight against the last members of the 'L.A. 8.'

February 27, 2007

FOR TWO DECADES, the U.S. government has been trying to deport two Palestinians living in Southern California -- middle-aged men who have been lawful permanent residents of this country for three decades. The Department of Homeland Security, which must soon make a decision on the matter, should drop the case and allow Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh to continue to live their American lives.

The two men are the remnant, for legal purposes, of the "L.A. 8." That was the term used to describe seven Palestinian men and a Kenyan woman who were arrested at gunpoint at their homes in 1987 for their alleged association with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or PFLP, a Marxist-Leninist faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The government began proceedings to deport them on the theory that the faction advocated "world communism through written or printed publications."

Hamide and Shehadeh were originally slated for deportation under the McCarran-Walter Act, a noxious Cold War law that was substantially overturned in 1988. "The government is trying to stifle certain ideas from entering our society through certain aliens through its immigration power," wrote the federal judge at the time.

Undaunted, the government filed charges against Hamide and Shehadeh, accusing them of ties with "an organization that advocates or teaches the duty or necessity or propriety of the unlawful assaulting or killing of government officials." The deportation effort was later justified under a provision of the Patriot Act enacted after 9/11.

Throughout the tortuous litigation, the government argued that the L.A. 8 provided support that found its way to the PFLP and its terrorist activities, while the members of the L.A. 8 insisted that they raised funds only for the building of hospitals and other humanitarian purposes.

In terminating the deportation proceedings last month, federal immigration Judge Bruce J. Einhorn embraced neither of these conflicting narratives. Instead, he cited the government's refusal to comply with his order seeking any evidence that had the potential to exonerate the men and emphasized that the case had lingered so long as to violate due process. He referred to the case as "a festering wound" on Hamide and Shehadeh and said it was "an embarrassment to the rule of law."

The judge's prose may be purple, but his conclusion is correct. Hamide and Shehadeh are well-integrated members of the community. They have not been convicted of any crime. The government's unrelenting effort to deport them smacks of bureaucratic face-saving. Einhorn has offered the government a graceful exit from this litigation -- and the government should take it.

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