Any deport in a storm

May 28, 2003 at 12:00 am

If your idea of a good time is exploring the lengths to which this nation will go to punish perceived political foes, you’ll be euphoric on Thursday, May 29, at the metro Detroit premiere of a flick called Voices in Exile: Immigrants and the First Amendment. The fact that the video was completed in 1989 yet its subjects are still pursued by the government is testament to the feds’ pigheadedness.

Directed by Joan Mandell of Royal Oak, the documentary chronicles a 16-year crusade the government has waged against a group of Arab (and one Kenyan) immigrants who had the temerity to advocate for a Palestinian homeland and rights. The case against the so-called L.A. Eight began in 1987, when Ronald Reagan was doddering around the Oval Office. It has survived through the administrations of George Herbert Walker Bush, Bill Clinton and, now, Il Shrub, George W. Bush.

The immigrants originally were singled out for deportation under the McCarran-Walter Act, which targeted communists and became law at the height of the Red Scare in the 1950s. After Congress amended the act in the ’90s, the government shifted gears and began seeking other justification for deporting the immigrants, who were members of an arm of the Palestine Liberation Organization (which, in case you hadn’t noticed, the United States has since recognized and is currently negotiating with).

One scene shows an Immigration and Naturalization Service official moronically explaining that his agency doesn’t care what method works, as long as the goal is achieved. He compares the case to a football game — it doesn’t matter whether a team scores by run or pass, as long as a touchdown is achieved.

“They’re playing football with my life,” one defendant counters.

Lawyers for the defendants say their clients are targets of selective political prosecution, and several courts have agreed with them along the way. The defense insists that the same First Amendment rights that apply to citizens also apply to law-abiding immigrants. Now, they fear, the government will employ new powers gained under the Orwellian USA PATRIOT Act. Marc Van Der Hout, the lead defense attorney, says the PATRIOT Act is retroactive and the government is deciding whether to invoke it and appeal an INS judge’s ruling that only the Walter-McCarren charges are still applicable.

“What we’re hopeful for is that the government will look at the case now and decide to drop it,” Van Der Hout says. “It’s a case that history has passed by. None of these individuals have done anything illegal. The [former] head of the FBI, William Webster, admitted that they had never violated any criminal law. He basically said if they were U.S. citizens there would be nothing the government could do ...”

Mandell will appear at the premiere, which is set for 7 p.m. at the Kulick Community Center, 1201 Livernois in Ferndale. Julie Hurwitz, executive director of the Sugar Law Center, will speak on the effects of the PATRIOT Act. The event is a benefit for Women in Black, a peace organization; a $5 donation is suggested.

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