ACLU to challenge secret detention hearings
By The Associated Press
Editor's note: The lawsuit was filed March 6 by the Newark ACLU and the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of the New Jersey Law Journal and North Jersey Media Group, publisher of The Record of Hackensack and the Herald News of West Paterson.
NEWARK, N.J. The Newark chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union was to file a lawsuit today challenging the government's policy of holding secret hearings for people arrested on immigration charges as part of the Sept. 11 investigations.
Chief U.S. Immigration Judge Michael Creppy issued a memorandum Sept. 21 directing immigration judges to close hearings involving detainees whose cases have been designated "special interest" to the FBI. It also prohibits court administrators from listing the cases on dockets, or confirming when hearings are to be held.
Those restrictions have prevented detainees' families and members of the news media from attending the hearings, even if the detainees want their hearings to be held in open court.
The ACLU said it would bring the lawsuit on behalf of two New Jersey newspapers seeking access to detainees' deportation hearings. Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the group's Newark branch, would not identify the publications and declined comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit would be the latest in a series of court cases challenging the unprecedented secrecy in which the federal government has cloaked its handling of the detainees. Most of the more than 300 detainees still in custody are being held on immigration charges in the Hudson, Passaic and Middlesex county jails.
The ACLU's national and Michigan branches filed a similar lawsuit in Detroit in January on behalf of two newspapers there and U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., claiming the secrecy policy is unconstitutional.
In Newark, lawyers for a Syrian detainee, Malek Zeidan, went to court last week seeking to have his deportation hearing opened to the public.
"The ACLU's suit on behalf of the newspapers and their First Amendment rights will definitely complement my client's due-process suit in federal court," said Regis Fernandez, one of Zeidan's lawyers. "Hopefully this will provide an avenue to pare down this horrible practice of closing hearings involving immigrants."
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