They’ve got a secret 

Metro Times and other newspapers suing to keep immigration hearings open to the public achieved another victory in court Monday — even though the decision resulted in information remaining secret. If that sounds a bit convoluted … well, it is.

Here’s the deal: The papers, which previously gained federal court rulings that ordered the Immigration and Naturalization Service to open deportation proceedings against Ann Arbor resident Rabih Haddad, returned to the federal bench after INS Judge Robert Newberry last week closed a bond hearing for Haddad without placing on the record any reason for doing so.

On Monday, U.S. Judge Nancy Edmunds agreed that the hearing was improperly closed and admonished Newberry. But the violation appears to have been largely procedural; after reviewing material the government wants kept secret, Edmunds agreed that disclosure could put a confidential informant in jeopardy.

Although Haddad faces deportation for an alleged visa violation, the government has raised the specter of possible connections between terrorists and Global Relief Foundation, the Islamic charity he co-founded.

Michael Steinberg, legal director of the Michigan ACLU (which represents Metro Times in the case), says he’s satisfied with the ruling. What’s important, he explained, is that a judge acting in the open was able to balance First Amendment protections against national security interests. The end result was that a small portion of evidence remained secret from the public.

“This is the way the system is supposed to work,” he explains. “What we wanted all along was for judges to take a hard look at the information the government said needed to be shielded from public disclosure.”

Haddad’s bail hearing resumes Tuesday, Oct. 22. His deportation hearing is to commence a day later.

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