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Government files Real ID Act charges against the 'LA8'

Test case for repressive laws

The LA8 and family members, 1987
Photo: Khader Hamide

For nearly 18 years, the U.S. government has attempted to deport seven Palestinian activists and one Kenyan—known as the Los Angeles Eight or “LA8”—who were arrested for advocating on behalf of the Palestinian liberation struggle. The government’s case is baseless. It has used every repressive law at its disposal against the Eight.

Although various courts have established that the LA8 engaged in completely legal acts, the government continues to seek the deportation of two defendants: Michel Shehadeh and Khader Hamide. The government’s most recent attempt to deport the Eight was set to begin in mid-July. A trial addressing the government’s allegations under the Patriot Act was scheduled in a Los Angeles immigration court.

However, immigration Judge Bruce Einhorn issued an order canceling the trial just before its opening day. It is still unclear whether Einhorn intended simply to postpone the trial, drop the Patriot Act charges altogether or something else. He still has not issued a formal ruling.

New law brings new charges

After the cancellation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement filed additional charges under the Real ID Act, passed by Congress in May 2005. The charges allege that Shehadeh and Hamide are members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist organization that has long struggled for Palestinian liberation.

Like the Patriot Act, the Real ID Act did not exist at the time Shehadeh and Hamide organized fundraisers for humanitarian organizations operating in Palestine in the mid-1980s. The Real ID Act makes “membership” in the PFLP (now dubbed a “terrorist” group by the U.S. government) a deportable offense, bringing this 18-year-old case back where it started.

In 1987, the LA8 were charged with advocating “world communism” based on their political associations. Congress later repealed the law that made belonging to a communist organization illegal after federal courts declared it unconstitutional.

Because of the Real ID Act’s broad language and the fact that it has yet to be interpreted by any court, the new charges contain many ambiguities. It is unclear whether the government is alleging that Shehadeh and Hamide are currently members of the PFLP or whether they were members over 18 years ago.

The struggle continues

With the addition of Real ID Act charges, the case of the LA8 is once again mired in uncertainty. Lawmakers want to know if their affronts to basic civil liberties can stand up in the courts or whether they need further amendment.

“The government seeks to ensure that it has the tools to silence dissent and opposition to U.S. foreign policy, especially dissent by immigrants who come from the regions of the world most affected by U.S. intervention,” Shehadeh recently told Socialism and Liberation.

The LA8’s lawyers filed a motion in August to terminate the case and all further proceedings against Shehadeh and Hamide.

The motion is now pending before the immigration court.

Despite the continued attempts to deport him, Shehadeh remains resolute. “The addition of new charges is something we’ve grown accustomed to in this case,” he said. “But it just means we must work harder against these repressive measures and whatever else they may attempt to implement. I’m confident we will have justice. We will continue the struggle until it is won.”

The author is a member of the Committee for Justice to Defend the LA8. For more information and updates on the case visit www.committee4justice.com
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