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An Arab man detained on immigration charges after Sept. 11 has persuaded a federal judge to review a national directive that closes deportation proceedings to the press and the public. On Thursday, in response to a motion for a preliminary injunction, U.S. District Judge John Bissell of the District of New Jersey set a March 6 return date for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and scheduled oral arguments for March 11. Newark, N.J., lawyer Bennet Zurofsky is arguing that closing deportation hearings violates his client’s due process rights under the Fifth Amendment and the attorney general’s own regulations. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy ordered that hearings for all newly detained Muslims be held in secret. Only the immigration judge, the Immigration and Naturalization Service attorney and the defense lawyer may be present. National security is the stated reason for the secrecy, although immigration lawyers have complained that their clients aren’t charged with terrorism. Zurofsky’s client, Maliek Zeidan, a Syrian, came to the United States 14 years ago and overstayed his tourist visa. Zeidan has since made a living in Paterson, N.J., delivering pizza in the winter and driving an ice cream van in the summer. Four weeks ago, the INS knocked on his apartment door. The agents were looking for his former roommate, but asked him to show up at an INS office the next day, which he did. He was then taken into custody and has been kept in New Jersey’s Hudson County Jail since. On Feb. 21, Zeidan’s immigration attorney, Newark solo practitioner Regis Fernandez, asked Immigration Judge Annie Garcy to open his hearing so his cousin, Ali Zidan, could function as a witness and so that reporters from the Law Journal and the North Jersey Herald News could observe the proceedings. Garcy said no and ejected all three. With Fernandez now functioning as a friendly witness to the removal hearing, Zeidan retained Zurofsky, of Newark’s Reitman Parsonnet. “My client comes from a part of the world where secret trials have a deservedly bad reputation,” he says. “He has a very understandable fear of such proceedings.” As a practical matter, Zurofsky notes, although Zeidan has been provided with an Arabic translator, he would like to be able to discuss his case in the courtroom in Arabic with his cousin. “Granting the preliminary injunction will tend to eliminate the disquiet generated in large segments of the public by in camera proceedings and ex cathedra rule making,” Zurofsky says in his brief. Michael Chagares, an Assistant U.S. Attorney and chief of the office’s Civil Division, opposed the motion and declined to comment. Separately, Chagares and his colleagues from the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday successfully persuaded Hudson County Superior Court Judge Maurice Gallipoli to allow the U.S. Attorney’s Office to intervene as a party in a suit by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey to obtain the names of Muslims detained in Hudson and Passaic county jails. DOJ Civil Division lawyer Lisa Olson argued that the federal government has a “substantial and compelling interest in preventing public disclosure of details identifying the federal detainees to protect the government’s September 11th investigation” and that the counties on their own cannot adequately defend this interest. The ACLU argued that the case was purely a matter of state law and that the DOJ should be kept out. “At best it’s the counties recognizing that it is the federal government … attempting to force them to violate their duty under state law,” says ACLU legal director Edward Barocas. “At worst, this is a collusive effort between the counties and the federal government to delay the disclosure of information that the state legislature has clearly mandated must be made available to the public,” he adds. Hudson County Counsel Joseph Sherman, who has also filed a third-party complaint against the INS, disagrees. “It was appropriate for the feds to be involved, and now they are.”

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