Patriot Act Used In 16-Year-Old Deportation Case
Administration Revives 1987 Effort

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 23, 2003; Page A03


The Bush administration has decided to pursue a 16-year-old effort to deport two Palestinian activists who as students distributed magazines and raised funds for a group the government now considers a terrorist organization, despite several court rulings that the deportations are unconstitutional because the men were not involved in terrorist activity.

The case, which has long had a high profile among Palestinian Americans, could pose a new judicial test of a controversial provision in the Patriot Act, passed in 2001. The provision prohibits supplying material support for organizations the government deems “terrorist,” even without evidence of a link to specific terrorist acts.

At the time of their initial arrests in 1987, the activists, Khader Hamide and Michel Shehadeh, were allegedly affiliated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a Marxist group that has advocated an independent Palestinian state and has been involved in various acts of terrorism.

The government alleges that Hamide and Shehadeh helped raise funds for the PFLP in the mid-1980s at California churches, a Scottish Rite temple and an auditorium owned by the Veterans of Foreign Wars and distributed magazines for the group.

Hamide and Shehadeh deny any affiliation with the PFLP and say they are being punished for speaking on behalf of the Palestinian cause. Hamide is now a coffee salesman and Shehadeh is a restaurant manager; both live with their families in California and say they have no connection to terrorism.

“I don’t know any other home,” Shehadeh said in a telephone interview. “This is a political case” being pursued because of bureaucratic inertia, he said. “We were never charged with doing anything ourselves.”

In seeking the deportation in 1987 of Hamide, Shehadeh and six other Palestinian immigrants allegedly associated with the PFLP, the Reagan administration’s Justice Department invoked a provision of the Cold War-era McCarran-Walter Act, which barred membership in communist groups. But a lawsuit filed by the so-called L.A. 8 led a federal appeals court to declare the law an unconstitutional infringement of free speech, and Congress repealed it in 1990.

The deportation cases nonetheless continued to churn through the courts because Congress’s action did not affect pending disputes. Then-FBI Director William Webster conceded in 1987 that none of the eight had engaged in terrorist activity and that they would not have been arrested if they were U.S. citizens. Civil liberties groups charged that the government was wrongly excluding the immigrants from traditional protections of free speech and association.

Six of the cases were ultimately deemed minor technical violations. In January, the Bush administration was given a summer deadline for declaring whether it would still seek to invoke the McCarran Act. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security confirmed that it would pursue the deportations but drew on the language of the Patriot Act.

A department spokesman yesterday declined to elaborate.

“This has always been a case of guilt by association, and nothing more,” said Georgetown University Law professor David Cole, who has been their attorney for more than a decade.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company