Appeals Court Hears Arguments Today in Second ACLU Challenge to Secret Immigration Hearings

September 17, 2002 12:00 am

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PHILADELPHIA-A federal appeals court is scheduled to hear arguments today in the American Civil Liberties Union’s second challenge to a government policy blocking media and public access to immigration hearings of people detained after Sept. 11.

“”The federal courts have been unanimous in saying that the government cannot categorically close down every immigration hearing from beginning to end without specific evidence in an individual case of why it must be secret,”” said Lee Gelernt, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, which along with the ACLU of New Jersey is representing a group of New Jersey newspapers at today’s hearing.

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 proceedings to the public and the press, when directed by the Justice Department.

Last month, in the first appellate court ruling in the nation, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati unanimously struck down the Creppy policy in the case of an immigrant from Detroit. In a much-quoted decision, the court declared that “”Democracies die behind closed doors.””

At today’s hearing before the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel will review a similar finding of a federal district court in New Jersey. Significantly, the New Jersey court said that its decision would apply to hearings nationwide, while the Detroit case concerned the immigration hearings of one individual, Rabih Haddad.

According to Justice Department statistics released in July, more than 600 immigrants nationwide have been subjected to secret immigration hearings since Sept. 11.

“By barring the press and public, the government is defying a longstanding history of openness in deportation hearings and is attempting to shield itself from accountability regarding the controversial detention of hundreds of immigrants,” said Ed Barocas, Legal Director of the ACLU of New Jersey.

The case, North Jersey Media Group, Inc. and New Jersey Law Journal v. John Ashcroft, Attorney General of the United States and Hon. Michael Creppy, Chief Immigration Judge of the United States, No. 02-2524, is being heard before Chief Judge Edward R. Becker; Judge Anthony Scirica and Judge Morton Greenberg.

The ACLU’s legal brief in the Third Circuit is online at

The Creppy memo is online at

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