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Final two L.A. 8 defendants cleared

After 20 years, U.S. drops efforts to deport men accused of ties to Palestinian terrorists.

November 01, 2007|Henry Weinstein | Times Staff Writer

Ending a controversial 20-year campaign to expel immigrants because of their ties to alleged Palestinian terrorists, the federal government has agreed to drop attempts to deport the final two defendants in the L.A. 8 case.

The Board of Immigration Appeals on Tuesday dismissed all charges against Khader M. Hamide and Michel I. Shehadeh, who had faced deportation proceedings since 1987, and approved a settlement submitted by the men's lawyers and the Department of Homeland Security, according to documents made public Wednesday.

The case, which placed seven Palestinian men and a Kenyan woman in legal and personal limbo for more than two decades, foreshadowed government efforts after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to ferret out potentially dangerous Muslim militants in the U.S.

But Hamide, Shehadeh and the other defendants were never charged with an act of terrorism or with any other crime. Rather, they were accused of supporting the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical offshoot of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has taken credit for car bombings and airline hijackings in the Middle East.

Specifically, the government targeted the eight immigrants' efforts to distribute Al Hadaf, the Popular Front's magazine, a publication available in public libraries, on college campuses and even at the U.S. Library of Congress.

The immigrants asserted that they were being persecuted for lawful political activities: assisting Palestinians with human rights and medical needs; raising money for hospitals, youth clubs and day-care centers; and participating in demonstrations. The L.A. 8, as the defendants were dubbed, became a symbol for critics, who considered the case emblematic of misguided and overly zealous attempts by the government to deport pro-Palestinian activists.

"After thorough analysis and investigation, the United States government has no information indicating that Khader Musa Hamide and Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh currently pose a threat to national security," the Department of Homeland Security said in a prepared statement.

"The government reasonably believed at the time these men were charged they were a threat because of their membership in a terrorist organization," California spokeswoman Virginia Kice said.

Hamide and Shehadeh said they were relieved that the government's long pursuit of them was over.

"My family and I feel a tremendous amount of relief," said Hamide, 52, after learning of the appeal board's decision. "After 20 years, the nightmare is finally over. I feel vindicated at long last," said the Chino Hills resident, who is in the coffee distribution business. "This is a victory not only for the L.A. 8 but for the 1st Amendment of the Constitution and for the rights of all immigrants."

Shehadeh, who is 50 and now lives in Oregon, said that although he was "extremely happy" to put the battle behind him, he had mixed emotions. "The government robbed us, and our families, of the best and most productive years of our lives. But we will continue . . . acting on our beliefs, loving our country and defending the Constitution," he said.

The government's decision to drop charges against Hamide and Shehadeh was "a victory for the 1st Amendment rights of all immigrants and a vindication of their clients' actions," the attorneys for the L.A. 8 said in a formal statement.

"This is a monumental victory . . . for all immigrants who want to be able to express their political views and support the lawful activities of organizations in their home countries fighting for social or political change," said San Francisco attorney Marc Van Der Hout of the National Lawyers Guild, who has worked on the case since its inception. The government's attempt to deport Hamide and Shehadeh "all these years marks another shameful period in our government's history of targeting certain groups of immigrants for their political beliefs and activities."

Georgetown University law professor David Cole, who also represented the two men for 20 years on behalf of the Center for Constitutional Rights, said, "We are overjoyed for our clients, who have spent 20 years fighting for the right to stay in this country and associate freely."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California also played an active role in representing the men over the last two decades. ACLU attorney Ahilan Arulanantham said, "We are gratified that the government has decided to terminate this case and to spend its resources on genuine threats to national security."

The government's decision to throw in the towel came nine months after Bruce J. Einhorn, a federal immigration judge in Los Angeles, lambasted federal officials for violating the men's rights. Einhorn accused the government of a "gross failure" to comply with instructions to turn over to the men "potentially exculpatory and other relevant information."

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