DETROIT – Supporters of jailed Ann Arbor Muslim leader Rabih Haddad, carrying his portrait and signs demanding due process for his case, gathered in front of the U.S. District Court in Detroit yesterday. Nearly 30 people from the Ann Arbor Muslim Community Association and the University chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, among others came to watch a motion to open Haddad’s immigration hearings to the public.
“We represent members of the press and public who in no way seek to interfere with Haddad’s deportation,” Michigan ACLU Executive Director Kary Moss said in a written statement. “At issue is the power of the attorney general – without judicial review – to order immigration judges to close all immigration hearings to the public and the press.”
A decision on the motion will be decided before the Haddad family’s April 10 deportation hearing.
The motion was filed at the end of January against the government by U.S. Rep. John Conyers (D-Detroit), the ACLU of Michigan, the Detroit Free Press and the Ann Arbor News. The defendants named in the lawsuit were U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy and Immigration Judge Elizabeth Hacker.
The hearing was presided over by Judge Nancy Edmunds, a 10-year veteran of the U.S. District Court appointed by former President Bush in 1992.
MCA member Kristine Abouzhar said she was not especially concerned about Edmunds’ political affiliation.
“A lot of people across the board are concerned with civil rights in our country now,” Abouzhar said. “She was asking very hard-hitting questions of the government lawyers and she did also come out at times and disagree with them. … I don’t think it’s going to matter if she’s Democrat or Republican.”
The hearing brought up several issues including the accusation that the government violated the First Amendment by not allowing public viewing of Haddad’s immigration hearings. The plaintiffs claim that immigration hearings are only closed in extreme cases where classified information is involved. Otherwise, closed hearings represent a feature of totalitarian governments.
“Abuses flourish in secret. … Secrecy I don’t think in any way enhances our national security,” Herschel Fink, a lawyer for the Free Press, said.
Discussion of a memo from Creppy to all immigration judges was also discussed during the hearing. In the memo dated Sept. 21, Creppy set forth new regulations for immigration hearings, including closing them off to the public.
Meanwhile, the government contends that since the Immigration and Naturalization Service Court is an administrative court, hearings do not have to be open.
Justice Department attorney Thankful Vanderstar refused to comment further on the case.
Haddad supporters held a protest outside the courthouse before the hearing. The protesters had mixed views about what the outcome of the hearing could be. Moss said she was hopeful that Haddad would benefit from Edmunds’ eventual decision.
“We have a very strong legal case,” Moss said.
But, MCA member Miriam Bajeili was not as optimistic.
“I would say I’m very guarded about today’s hearing. … It doesn’t address the important issue that people are being held without charge.”