When Speech Is Declared Illegal for Legal Immigrants
Anthony Lewis Copyright New York Times News Service, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Freedom for political speech has broader support in this country than ever before, I believe. Past repression of unpopular speakers seems anomalous today. One thing on which most conservatives and liberals now agree is respect for the First Amendment.
But not the U.S. Department of Justice. Not, at least, if one goes by an astonishing brief the department has just filed. In the teeth of precedent and logic, it argues that immigrants in this country have only as much freedom of speech as the government considers reasonable - and can be deported if they cross that vague line.
The brief was filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in a seven-year-old deportation case against two Palestinians. It is the latest turn in a proceeding that is a model of how our government should not behave.
Eight men and women of Palestinian origin, living in California, were arrested in 1987, held in shackles, and described as "terrorists." The Immigration and Naturalization Service charged them with advocating "world communism" - but later dropped that charge.
The real problem of the eight was that they had raised money for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical group. The PFLP has carried out terrorism, but it also conducts peaceful political and relief activities. Judge William Webster, then director of the FBI, told Congress in 1987 that the eight had "not been found to have engaged themselves in terroristic activities."
Contributing money for peaceful purposes to a group that also engages in violence is plainly protected by the First Amendment. Many Americans gave money to the Nicaraguan Contras, and they could certainly not be prosecuted. Nevertheless the Immigration Service moved to deport Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, who were lawfully in this country as permanent residents, under a 1990 law allowing deportation of those who support an organization "in conducting a terrorist activity." Many experts in immigration law protested that that language did not cover what these two men had done, but the INS persisted.
The INS sought to deport the six others for technical violations. It said, for example, that one who had a student visa failed to take enough credits one year. …