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Two courts have delivered victories to civil rights lawyers challenging government secrecy surrounding the arrest of immigrants in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. A Detroit federal judge ruled April 3 that the immigration hearings for aliens arrested because of suspicions of terrorism must be open. A week earlier, a New Jersey state judge ruled that two county jails must identify immigration inmates held there. Both rulings seem likely to be appealed, but they were strongly worded victories for the American Civil Liberties Union and other advocates who have filed four suits to get information about who was arrested and to open their hearings to the public. After Sept. 11, the government arrested as many as 1,200 people for having possible terrorist links. The Justice Department says 327 remain in custody. Only one person, Zacarias Moussaoui, has been charged in connection with the attacks. The government has pursued legal action against some detainees based on other criminal and immigration violations. At the direction of Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief Immigration Judge Michael Creppy issued a memorandum on Sept. 21, 2001, to immigration judges closing all proceedings in “special interest” cases, meaning those connected to the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Arab and Muslim-American groups and civil rights lawyers have protested that Arab and Muslim men have been singled out for arrest without bail in unusually high numbers compared to the approximately 300,000 people believed to be in violation of their INS status. ‘OPENNESS IS NECESSARY’ In Detroit, the ACLU’s Lee Gelernt brought a suit on behalf of U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr., and The Detroit News, to open the hearings for a Muslim man whose family, along with the public, was barred from the courtroom. The man, Rabih Haddad, a Lebanese cleric, is facing deportation for overstaying his visa. Also, he founded a charity the government is examining for terrorist links. U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds of the Eastern District of Michigan found the blanket closure of hearings in “special interest” cases unconstitutional. “Openness is necessary for the public to maintain confidence in the value and soundness of the Government’s actions, as secrecy only breeds suspicion as to why the Government is proceeding against Haddad and aliens like him,” she wrote. Gelernt says, “She refused to apply the watered-down standard suggested by the government and applied basic First Amendment principles.” In New Jersey, Ronald Chen, associate dean of the Rutgers University law school, argued the case on behalf of the ACLU. He asserted that two state laws dating from 1898 require detailed information about inmates to be made public. The federal government argued that another New Jersey open records law allowed the government to limit disclosure of information if it jeopardizes investigations in progress, which it claimed releasing the names would do. In weighing the apparently conflicting statutes, Superior Court Judge Arthur D’Italia ruled that the laws were not mutually exclusive but, read together, required New Jersey’s Passaic and Hudson County jails to turn over the information. D’Italia concluded that the state laws were intended to prevent secret arrests, and cited a Washington, D.C., circuit court ruling saying they are “a concept odious to a democratic society.” Department of Justice officials declined to comment on either case and say the government has not yet decided whether to appeal. At the government’s request, the release of the names was stayed pending an appeal. The rulings do not apply to all immigrants detained in the wake of Sept. 11, but both Detroit and Northern New Jersey have large populations of Muslims and Arabs. In December, New Jersey immigration lawyers estimated that as many as 650 people were imprisoned in two of the state’s jails in connection with Sept. 11. In its efforts to find out the names and locations of all detainees in the United States, a coalition of about 17 organizations brought a suit in December against the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act. Center for National Security Studies v. Department of Justice, CA-01-2500. In January, the government gave the plaintiffs a list of 725 people held in connection with its Sept. 11 investigation. The list contained no names but did give the charges, date of arrest and nationalities of those held. It included more detailed information about 108 people who were indicted on criminal charges, overwhelmingly nonterrorist offenses. The organizations said the list wasn’t sufficient. Briefing is scheduled to be finished at the end of April. The ACLU is also involved in a fourth suit, in New Jersey, to open all immigration hearings nationally. The suit, brought on behalf of several newspapers including the New Jersey Law Journal, an affiliate of The National Law Journal and law.com, is set for argument April 22. MORE SUITS BREWING The Center for Constitutional Rights in New York says that it is planning a challenge to the government’s policy of continuing to imprison immigrants for as long as five months after they have voluntarily agreed to leave the country. On the same day as the Haddad decision, the DOJ’s inspector general’s office announced that it would review the civil rights and liberties protections of those being held. The office will examine detainees’ access to counsel, the timeliness of the disposition of the charges and the physical detention conditions. It will also examine the conditions at the Passaic County Jail or the Metropolitan Detention Center in Brooklyn or both, the government said.

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