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Civil rights groups, newspapers win round in effort to open deportation hearings

By The Associated Press


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NEWARK, N.J. — The government has been barred from enforcing its blanket policy on secret deportation hearings for immigrants detained in the terrorism investigation.

Chief U.S. District Judge John W. Bissell granted a preliminary injunction in the case yesterday, ruling that such hearings may only be closed on a case-by-case basis by the judge conducting the proceeding.

Civil rights groups and two newspapers had requested the injunction.

In a Sept. 21 memorandum, the nation's chief immigration judge, Michael Creppy, directed immigration judges to close hearings involving detainees whose cases have been designated of "special interest" to the FBI. The memo also prohibited court administrators from listing the cases on dockets, or confirming when hearings are to be held.

"Without an injunction, the government could continue to bar the public and press from deportation proceedings without any particularized showing of justification. This presents a clear case of irreparable harm to a right protected by the First Amendment," Bissell wrote.

The Justice Department has not decided whether to appeal, spokesman Charles Miller said.

In a statement, the department said: "The closure of these hearings is vital to the ongoing efforts of law enforcement to take reasonable but necessary steps to protect our national security."

As of yesterday, 104 post-Sept. 11 detainees were in custody around the nation, down from more than 700, said Justice Department spokesman Dan Nelson. Most have been held in county jails in New Jersey. It was unclear how many have been deported.

Bissell acted on a lawsuit that was filed March 6 by the Newark chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York-based Center For Constitutional Rights on behalf of the New Jersey Law Journal, a weekly publication, and North Jersey Media Group, publisher of the Herald News of West Paterson, a daily newspaper.

The newspapers' reporters tried to cover hearings involving detainees, but were barred from courtrooms, along with the rest of the public.

"As important as the war on terrorism is, it doesn't supersede our constitutional rights," Lawrence Lustberg, a lawyer for the newspapers, said yesterday.


Immigration hearings must be public, rules federal appeals court
Since Sept. 11 attacks, Justice Department has sought to bar public, journalists from proceedings, arguing that disclosure compromises national security.  06.18.02


ACLU to challenge secret detention hearings
Newark, N.J., chapter says it will bring lawsuit on behalf of newspapers seeking access to detainees' deportation proceedings.  03.06.02


Justice Department: Public has no right of access to immigration hearings
Government appeals federal judge's decision opening up deportation proceedings against Rabih Haddad.  05.09.02

Federal judge hears arguments over releasing detainees' names
First Amendment advocates say government has expanded its own power without any congressional support and in conflict with FOI laws.  05.30.02

N.J. appeals court: Detainee names can be kept secret
Three-judge panel rules that INS chief has broad powers to prevent information release.  06.12.02