Posted on December 08, 1997 in Washington Watch

Sometime before the end of December, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) will formally appeal an immigration judge’s decision to allow Imad Hamad to remain in the United States and become a U.S. citizen. This INS action is but the latest chapter in Imad’s 17-year saga in the U.S. It is also the most dangerous.

Imad Hamad is a 34-year old Palestinian refugee from Lebanon. He entered the United States in 1980 as a student. Imad is married to a U.S. citizen and is employed as a social worker by the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS) and as a community organizer by the Arab American Institute (AAI). He is the father of two children, and he and his wife, Arwa, are expecting their third child early next year.

In 1991, Arwa filed an immigration petition for Imad. After a series of administrative battles with immigration officials, it has now become clear why the INS has been so opposed to Imad’s application to remain in the U.S.: they are charging that Imad, as a student in the 1980’s, was involved in activities supportive of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). The INS apparently has photographs of Imad at rallies and fundraising dinners sponsored by the PFLP, especially during and after Israel’s invasion of Lebanon.

I say “apparently” because the INS has refused to make its evidence public. In court proceedings, they have used a provision of the 1996 Anti-terrorism Law that allows the government to use secret evidence in deportation cases. In this instance, only the judge has been permitted to see the government’s “evidence”. Neither Imad nor his lawyer has been allowed to see any of the material.

However, the INS’ efforts have been unsuccessful. When an immigration judge was shown the secret evidence during a September court proceeding, he rejected the government’s case against Imad, finding nothing in the evidence that would justify deporting him from the U.S. It was hoped that this would mark the end of the Hamad family’s ordeal. However, on October 29, the INS declared its intention to appeal the decision and continue to press for Imad’s deportation.

There are many troubling aspects to this case.

First and foremost is the humanitarian dimension. Should the INS win, Imad and his family will be faced with two choices: either they will have to leave the U.S. and go into exile—despite the fact that Arwa and the children are U.S. citizens—or the family will be shattered with Imad being forced to leave alone, with his wife and children remaining behind.

Of great importance to many Americans are the constitutional aspects of this case. Imad’s case represents the first time that the INS has actually used the “secret evidence” provision in an immigration court proceeding. Furthermore, in the INS’ notice of intention to appeal, they specifically cite that their case against Imad is based on their contention that he has been associated with the PFLP. They do not argue that he has been engaged in any criminal activity—only associated with the group. Since the PFLP has now been declared one of the 30 groups designated by the State Department as “terrorist”, any association with these groups has now become illegal and grounds for deportation.

These actions are deeply troubling to Americans who value the U.S. Constitution. Numerous past court cases have specifically ruled that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to all U.S. citizens and non-citizens who reside in the U.S. One of these guarantees individuals the right to know all evidence that is to be used against them and to confront that evidence and any accusers in an open court of law.

Imad’s supporters know that he has not been engaged in any criminal or violent activity. Furthermore, they point to the fact that when the trial judge reviewed the secret evidence presented by the INS; he dismissed the case and allowed Imad to remain in the U.S. Why then is the INS continuing to pursue Imad?

There is strong suspicion that the only basis for the government’s litigation is Imad’s activities as a student engaged in protest activities and fundraising to support the humanitarian activities of the PFLP. To rule such activities illegal, as the 1996 Anti-terrorism Law does, also violates the constitutionally guaranteed rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association.

Finally, there is serious concern that the Anti-terrorism Law is being applied in a discriminatory manner. At present, secret evidence or “terrorist” association aspects of the law are being used only against Arabs. There are now more than a dozen cases where Arabs are either in prison or facing deportation. Among these are the ten-year court battle of the Los Angeles 8—seven Palestinians and the Kenyan wife of one—who have been charged with distributing Al Hadaf, the PFLP magazine. There is also the case of Mazen al Najjar, who is imprisoned in Florida.

For all these reasons—humanitarian, constitutional and discrimination—Imad’s case (and those of the other Arab deportation cases) have drawn strong support from all sectors of the Arab American community. They have also garnered broad support from religious institutions, civil rights organizations, legal authorities and newspaper editorial writers across the U.S.

It is ironic, but also noteworthy, that it has fallen on the shoulders of Arab Americans to be the defenders of the U.S. Constitution in this era. We know that if Imad loses all Americans and future immigrants to America lose—and the Constitution will be weakened.

We know that the guaranteed rights and freedoms of the Constitution can never be taken for granted. In every era, those seeking to limit rights have threatened groups and individuals. Today Arab Americans are leading the struggle to defend the Constitution—for ourselves and for future generations. With the broad support we are receiving, we are confident that we will win.

For comments or information, contact jzogby@aaiusa.org

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