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Government wants to close immigration proceedings in Detroit

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Government wants to close immigration proceedings in Detroit

  • Media organizations challenged the government’s motion, arguing that the Sixth Circuit found such closures to be unconstitutional.

Aug. 7, 2003 — Nearly a year since a U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) ruled that across-the-board closure of immigration hearings is unconstitutional, the federal government has once again asked an immigration judge to close a deportation hearing.

The government has asked for closed proceeding for a Syrian man, Nabil Al-Marabh, 37, who allegedly has ties to Osama bin Laden and attended terrorism training camps in Afghanistan.

The Detroit News today challenged the closure, saying the public has a right to know what is going on in immigration cases.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security wants to bar the public from the hearing, scheduled for Aug. 11, because officials fear classified information could be released.

According to an Associated Press report, FBI agents arrested Al-Marabh on Sept. 19, 2001, outside Chicago.

In addition to asking that all proceedings in the case be closed, the government has asked that a declaration by an FBI agent in the case be “largely sealed,” said News attorney Leonard Niehoff.

The government has asked that everything but “basically name, rank and serial number” be redacted from the declaration, Neihoff said.

The newspaper today filed a brief opposing the government’s motions and pointing to the Sixth Circuit’s ruling that blanket closure of immigration hearings were not consistent with the First Amendment and that any requests for closure had to be narrowly tailored.

The Sixth Circuit opinion affirmed a trial court order in a case involving Rabih Haddad, an immigrant who was detained after September 11. His case was designated as “special interest” and the proceedings were closed. The closure was challenged by four Michigan newspapers, including the News, and Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.)

“After 9-11, the public needs reassurance that the government is proceeding appropriately and fairly,” Niehoff said. “Whenever proceedings are conducted in secret, that public interest simply cannot be served.”

“I think that the government has regrettably staked a very extreme position once again in requesting such complete closure,” Niehoff said. “If they have legitimate national security interests, those can be addressed through narrowly tailored closure. It’s meant to be a scalpel, not a chainsaw.”

(In the matter of Nabil Al-Murabh; Media counsel: James Stewart and Leonard Niehoff, Butzel Long, Detroit) JL

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