Major Victory in the L.A. 8 Case!
Government Forced to Dismiss All Charges
The L.A. 8—seven Palestinians and one Kenyan—were arrested in Los Angeles in 1987 by the FBI on purely political charges. None of them were never suspected of any criminal wrongdoing. Their only crime was speaking out for Palestinian rights and self-determination. Nevertheless, the U.S. government persecuted them for over two decades.
ANSWER leaders and volunteers have been deeply involved in the political struggle to stop the persecution of the L.A. 8 for many years. We are proud to share in this victory and we salute all those who fought so hard to ensure that justice be done in this case, especially Shehadeh and Hamide. An injury to one is an injury to all!
Below is an article about the recent victory that gives background on the case and reflections by members of the L.A. 8. It is by Muna Coobtee, ANSWER Coalition Steering Committee member in Los Angeles and activist with the Committee for Justice for the L.A. 8.
Los Angeles Eight defeat government deportation attempts
20-year-old case against Palestinian activists dismissed
By Muna Coobtee
The U.S. government’s 20-year attempt to deport two Palestinian men ended on Oct. 31. The country’s highest body overseeing immigration cases, the Board of Immigration Appeals, dismissed all charges pending against Michel Shehadeh and Khader Hamide. This is a major victory in a precedent-setting case.
According to their lawyers’ press release, the dismissal came at the government’s request. It “agreed in a settlement to drop all charges and not to seek removal of either of the men in the future based on any of the political activities or associations at issue in the case. Hamide and Shehadeh agreed not to apply for citizenship for three years, and to have several judicial orders in the case vacated as moot.”
The Eight were placed in maximum security prison and accused of having ties to the Marxist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which Washington falsely claims is a “terrorist organization.” It was not until years after the Eight’s arrest that the “terrorist” designation was imposed.
An unprecedented legal roller coaster kept their status uncertain in the United States for over 20 years. The full weight of the U.S. government was thrown behind its efforts to deport them. But, in the end, the government failed.
Attack on Palestinian movement
When the government first arrested the Eight, they were charged with advocating "world communism" based on their political associations. It alleged that the Eight distributed newspapers, held demonstrations and organized humanitarian fundraisers for Palestinians.
The government has openly admitted the political nature of the charges. William Webster, the director of the FBI at the time of the arrests, testified before Congress that the Eight had not engaged in criminal activity and could not have been legally arrested if they had been U.S. citizens.
The 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, however, made it a deportable offense for an immigrant or naturalized citizen to engage in activities deemed "subversive" by the government. Used during the McCarthy period as a tool of repression against communists and other political activists, the act was repealed by Congress after a federal court ruling in the L.A. 8 case declared parts of it unconstitutional in 1989.
But government harassment of the Eight did not cease. It renewed the campaign to deport Shehadeh and Hamide using newly passed "anti-terrorism" laws. On several occasions the federal courts ruled that the L.A. 8 had not been involved in criminal or terrorist activities—instead, the government had violated the First Amendment by selectively targeting the eight for constitutionally protected political activities.
The case reached the Supreme Court in 1999 after Congress had legalized the selective deportation of immigrants three years earlier.
In a major setback for the Eight, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants are not entitled to basic constitutional rights such as free speech, due process, equal protection and protection against selective prosecution. The shocking decision opened the door for immigrants to be deported on the basis of their political views. The L.A. 8 were called back into immigration court where they were barred from arguing the constitutional deficiencies of the government’s case.
Then, in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001, the government confirmed that the Eight’s case was a test case for its new repressive laws by charging the Eight under the Patriot Act. The case soon landed before federal immigration judge Bruce J. Einhorn, where the government was forced to prove that the act should apply to the case.
In the meantime, Aiad Barakat, another member of the L.A. 8, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in Los Angeles in late 2006. This step foreshadowed legal victories to come.
Just a few months later, on Jan. 30, 2007, Judge Einhorn ordered an end to the deportation proceedings against Shehadeh and Hamide.
Einhorn’s decision said that the government had violated the constitutional rights of Shehadeh and Hamide. His opinion attacked the U.S. government’s conduct throughout the case: "the attenuation of these proceedings is a festering wound on the body of respondents and an embarrassment to the rule of law." The opinion was Einhorn’s last. He retired the day it was issued.
Einhorn’s stinging legal rebuke of the government’s case set the stage for the settlement that brought the case to a close.
Struggle for justice
For 20 years, a people’s defense movement has fought for the L.A. 8, demanding that all charges be dropped. Political and legal organizations and individuals have shown solidarity and worked tirelessly to win justice for the Eight. Noted civil rights attorneys like Leonard Weinglass, David Cole and Marc Van Der Hout of the National Lawyers Guild spent countless hours advocating for them in court. Activists held demonstrations, fundraising dinners, public forums and formed committees to defend the Eight and support their vindication.
Now, victory for the Eight is secured. Hamide and Shehadeh are relieved, but remain justly angered by the political persecution meted out by the U.S. government.
“My family and I feel a tremendous amount of relief today,” said Hamide. “After 20 years, the nightmare is finally over. I feel vindicated at long last. This is a victory not only for us, but for the First Amendment of the Constitution and for the rights of all immigrants.”
Shehadeh agreed, “I am extremely happy but do have mixed emotions. The government was wrong for twenty one years. They robbed us, and our families, of the best and most productive years of our lives.”