Palestinian Activist Released--For Now

After more than two weeks detention by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, Amer Jubran is out on bond. The INS hasn't given up, though. In a few months they'll try to deport him. In the meantime, the feds have again shown a determination to trample on civil liberties to harass nonviolent protestors.

Jubran, a 33 year-old Rhode Island resident, is co-founder of a new organization that seeks a one-state Middle East solution, the New England Committee to Defend Palestine (NECDP). But, as one member told me before the November 21st INS hearing, you don't have to buy the Palestinian activist's politics to recognize the injustice of his treatment. He also noted that he disagrees with almost everything I write about Israel and Palestine, apparently because we differ about whether transforming Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza into a single state is more realistic or less realistic than establishing two viable states. So I'm not as much a believer as NECDP might like. But it's also clear to me that Amer Jubran's been railroaded.

The arrest came November 4th, two days after Jubran, a Jordanian citizen, led NECDP's first march through downtown Boston. According to Jubran, INS and FBI agents showed up at his house without a warrant and told him if he answered questions about his political activities they'd soon be gone; otherwise, he'd suffer "indefinite detention." When Jubran insisted on calling a lawyer, they hauled him to the Cranston, Rhode Island Adult Correctional Institution. Nelson Brill, Jubran's immigration attorney, said an INS official hung up on him a few days later when he persisted in asking why INS refused to release Jubran on bail.

This wasn't Jubran's first confrontation with authorities. He made local news in 2001 when police arrested him for allegedly kicking a hostile passerby while demonstrating at Boston's annual Israel Independence Day Festival, held in nearby Brookline. Witnesses claimed Brookline cops arrested the nonviolent Jubran after the cops reneged on an agreement about demonstration logistics; then they pressured 60 protestors to leave the area. After nine hearings, the judge dismissed all charges.

After his Brookline exoneration, Jubran helped organize protests when Israeli troops moved into the West Bank last winter and spoke widely at demonstrations, college classes, and other events. Jubran's personable, always-polite demeanor and his meticulous efforts to cooperate with authorities to ensure nonviolent protest made it difficult for the authorities to clamp down on his political advocacy. Until November.

According to attorney Brill, the current INS case is as fishy as the arrest's timing and process. Once Brill finally got Jubran a bond hearing, INS lawyer John DeAngelo argued that two issues related to the validity of Jubran's past marriage were grounds for his deportation.

First, INS says Jubran lied when he filed for residency and said he married a US citizen in 1997. The INS says that marriage certificate wasn't valid. In May 1998, when INS informed Jubran he wasn't legally married, he and his wife obtained a new certificate. According to Brill, the confusion stems from poor advice from Jubran's Boston attorney at the time, who wasn't familiar with Rhode Island marriage law. Jubran has said he believed he got married in 1997, as he indicated on his 1997 tax return.

The government's second issue stems from Jubran's filing for divorce in February 2000. Since that's less than two years after the May 1998 date the INS insists on using, and less than half a year after receiving his green card, INS claims Jubran's marriage was fraudulent.

At the bond hearing, Judge Leonard Shapiro implied the first issue wasn't all that serious, noting he's seen many examples of technically deficient marital documents.

But he agreed the government can presume the marriage was a fraud. So when the case proceeds, Jubran will have to prove it was legitimate. His ex-wife, now living in South Carolina, told Brill she'll testify the marriage was for real but she's been spooked ever since the FBI showed up at her house two months ago.

In the end, Judge Shapiro released Jubran on the minimum possible $1500 bond. He didn't even wait to hear from those who came to testify that Jubran was neither a flight risk nor a danger to the community. Brill had summarized the evidence about Jubran's residential stability (five years in one apartment), job status (his Cambridge College supervisor is holding open his Admissions Office job), lack of criminal convictions, and other community ties. Some 75 supporters of Jubran had come to pack the courtroom, although most couldn't fit inside.

Amer Jubran knew they were there. Looking back at the few people the six armed cops let squeeze inside, he smiled cautiously. He appeared worn out and pale and was still shackled uncomfortably. But as soon as he was released he made it clear his political work would continue.

Although attorney Brill hopes things don't get that far, he says Jubran has a good case for political asylum if INS invalidates his green card. In the meantime, the defense committee hopes an international support campaign will force INS to drop the case

Regardless of the outcome for Amer Jubran, government repression continues, enhanced by the USA PATRIOT Act and newly-passed surveillance and detention powers. Brill talks of other clients arrested without cause, from Brazil, West Africa, Vietnam. He says the government is sending a message to all activists, not just those from the Middle East: "Stop what you're doing, or we'll go through your file, too."

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