Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee v. Reno

CCR and the ACLU of Southern California challenged the constitutionality of the McCarran-Walter Act in 1987 on behalf of seven Palestinians and a Kenyan  who were arrested, held without bail and threatened with deportayionbecause of their alleged “affiliation” with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), a group which, according to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) advocates “doctrines  of world Communism” and the  “destruction of property.” The group­ now known as the “L.A. Eight”-was charged under the McCarran-Walter Act after a three year-long FBI investigation produced no evidence of criminal activity.

In 1989, the district court issued a his­toric decision striking down as unconsti­tutional the McCarran-Walter Act provi­sions that the government was seeking to use against the plaintiffs. The court held that the First Amendment protects non-citizens as well as citizens in this country, and that the government is constitutionally barred from deporting non-citizens for their political beliefs and affiliations.

Congress repealed the McCarran Walter Act in October 1990, and replaced it with the Immigration Act of 1990, which makes it a deportable offense to “engage in terrorist activity.” In light of that repeal, the court of appeals found in July 1992 that the plaintiffs no longer faced an immediate threat that the gov­ernment would use the McCarran-Walter Act against them, and reversed the dis­trict court’s ruling on procedural grounds.

Meanwhile, the INS continues to seek the deportation of two plaintiffs under the Immigration Act of 1990 and of the other six plaintiffs under non-ideological visa vio­lation charges. Plainti ffs have argued that these charges should be dismissed because the INS is selectively seeking their deportation because of their alleged association with the PFLP. Plaintiffs also charge that their ability to get a fair and impartial deportation hearing has been undermined by the involvement of the  Chair of the Board of Immigration Appeals in a secret committee specifically designed to facilitate deportation of “alien activists.”­

In April 1991, CCR filed a constitu­tional challenge to the INS’s unprece­dented attempt to use secret, undis­closed information to deny two of the plaintiffs-Nairn Sharif and Aiad Barakat-applications for resident sta­tus under the Immigration Reform and Control Act. The INS refused to disclm the evidence for its allegations of their affiliation with the PFLP, claiming that the information is classified. Plaintiffs sought a preliminary injunction, chal­lenging this procedure as a violation of the fundamental due process right to be apprised by the government of evidence used against them.

The district court initially ruled that it had jurisdiction to hear plaintiffs’ selective prosecution claims. After plaintiffs put forth over 400 pages of evidence demonstrating that the INS had not sought to deport similarly situated imrrgrants who had supported the Nicaraguan contras, the Afghanistan Mujahedin, anti-Castro Cuban groups, and others, the court tentatively ruled,  August 1993,  that  plaintiffs had  been shown  selective enforcement. In November, however,the court  reverseed itself, at least as to Hamide and Shehadeh, and ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to hear their selective enforce­ment claim. Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration.

On January 7, 1994, the court issued two rulings against the INS: a prelimi­nary injunction against deportation proceedings against six of the eight, on selective prosecution grounds, and another preliminary injunction barring the INS from relying on undisclosed secret information in adjudicating two of the non-citizens’s applications for permanent resident stat us, on due process grounds.

The court stated that “mere association with the PFLP is protected by the First Amendment” and that the PLFP was not “solely a criminal organization,” which is exactly the basis that the government had used to prosecute the “L.A. Eight” from the beginning.

David Cole and Michael Ratner; with Paul Hoffman, Carol Sobel, Mark Rosenbaum, ACLU Foundation of Southern California; Dan Stromer; Marc Van Der Hout, NLG; Peter Schey, Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law.