ACLU Files First Post-Sept. 11 Challenge To Closed Immigration Hearings on Behalf of MI Congressman and Journalists
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
DETROIT–In a case that could open the doors to legal proceedings of detainees around the nation, the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit on behalf of two local newspapers and Rep. John Conyers, D-MI, saying that a categorical block on public access to immigration hearings is unconstitutional and un-American.
“”If hearings of this nature are being conducted in secret, how can we be sure that our justice system is really working and that detainees are being treated fairly?”” said Kary Moss, Executive Director of the ACLU of Michigan.
The lawsuit was filed in federal district court here by the national and state offices of the ACLU on behalf of Rep. Conyers, the Detroit News, and the Metro Times, an alternative weekly. They were among hundreds turned away from three recent deportation hearings in the case of Rabih Haddad, a Muslim community leader from Ann Arbor who co-founded an Islamic charity suspected of supporting terrorist activities.
At issue is a policy set forth in a September 21, 2001 memo from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy to all immigration judges, requiring the closure of all deportation proceedings to the public and the press when directed by the Justice Department. That policy was apparently invoked to close the hearings in Mr. Haddad’s case.
“”Under settled First Amendment law, there is a strong presumption that court proceedings must be open to the public and members of the press,”” said Steven R. Shapiro, Legal Director of the national ACLU. “”The Justice Department’s policy of blanket secrecy is unconstitutional and incompatible with the values of a free society.””
A ruling that the policy is unconstitutional could result in the opening of court proceedings in other deportation cases around the nation, Shapiro said.
Haddad was arrested on a minor visa violation on December 14, 2001, eight months after he had applied for permanent residency. Prior to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Immigration and Naturalization Service had generally refrained from initiating deportation proceedings against immigrants living in the United States while their applications for permanent residency are pending.
The ACLU is seeking a ruling from the court by Feb. 19, the date of Haddad’s next scheduled hearing. The lawsuit also seeks access to transcripts of Haddad’s previous hearings and any other documents related to the proceedings in his case.
Moss said that the ACLU challenge does not address Haddad’s innocence or guilt – which is “”a question that must be decided by the courts.””
Today’s case is Detroit News, Inc., et al v. Ashcroft et al., filed in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division. Named as defendants are U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Michael Creppy, Chief Immigration Judge of the United States, and Elizabeth Hacker, U.S. Immigration Judge.
The legal complaint is online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/haddad.pdf.
The memorandum from Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy is available in .pdf format at http://archive.aclu.org/court/creppy_memo.pdf.
The declarations of Rep. John Conyers and Ashraf Nubani, which are exibits in the case, are available online at http://archive.aclu.org/court/haddad_conyers.pdf and http://archive.aclu.org/court/haddad_nubani.pdf.
For more information about the ACLU’s fight to stop the war on terrorism’s growing infringement on our civil liberties, go to http://archive.aclu.org/safeandfree/index.html.
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