When he talks about his coming court case, Michel Shehadeh sounds
more like a civics teacher than someone the FBI says poses a threat
to national security.
Today, 11 years after federal agents came to kick the pro-
Palestinian activist out of the country for allegedly raising money
for terrorists, Mr. Shehadeh will climb the steps to the US Supreme
Court and watch lawyers battle over his future.
The central issue is the rather technical matter of whether
immigrants have a right to seek redress in federal court in the
of a deportation proceeding. But broader questions abound. Chief
among them is the extent to which the United States Constitution
requires government toleration of unpopular, even threatening,
"In a way it is an honor to be engaged in a case to defend the
ideals of what America is all about: the right to speak out and be
free to engage in debate without fear of prosecution," says
a green card holder. "I feel I am fighting to make America a better
place, a better country."
On the other side are those who believe that if Shehadeh wins, the
US will be a more vulnerable place in an era of increasingly
sophisticated and dangerous terrorists.
Shehadeh is one of eight pro-Palestinian activists - all
prospective immigrants - whom federal agents in Los Angeles targeted
in the 1980s as suspected supporters of the Popular Front for the
Liberation of Palestine. The State Department designated the PFLP as
a terrorist organization.
Shehadeh and his colleagues, known as the LA-8, deny any
connection to the PFLP and say their fund-raising went solely to
After years of investigation, the FBI was unable to prove a
direct, criminal link between any fundraising and illegal acts of
terror. The agents then turned over their 11,000-page case file to
the Immigration and Naturalization Service with a recommendation
the eight be deported on grounds that they posed a risk to national
The LA-8 decided to fight back. They took their case to a federal
judge, arguing that would-be immigrants enjoy a right to engage in
political activities, including raising money for lawful projects
overseas. They say the government is guilty of selective
enforcement, since immigrants have never been deported because of
ties to organizations such as the Irish Republican Army.
The judge agreed, and so did the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Clinton administration asked the Supreme Court to revisit the
issue, particularly in light of a 1996 law that bars anyone in the
from raising money on behalf of a designated terrorist organization.
The Supreme Court declined to consider that issue, but agreed to
The high court will examine if immigrants have a right to seek
help in federal court before their deportation proceeding is