Washington — The American Civil Liberties Union last week filed a lawsuit in the federal district court in Los Angeles challenging the use of a McCarthy-era law to deport seven Palestinians accused of being associated with a subversive organization. The lawsuit relates to the Jan. 26 arrest of seven Palestinians in Los Angeles by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the Los Angeles Police Department. The Palestinians were accused of distributing literature of an organization that ``advocates world communism,'' in violation of the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act. On Feb. 17 immigration-law Judge Roy J. Daniels ordered them released from INS custody until their deportation hearing on April 28.
In its suit, in which Arab-American and other civil-liberties groups have joined, the ACLU asserts that the Palestinians are being persecuted for activities protected by the First Amendment.
ACLU attorney Hope Nakamura says Supreme Court rulings since the 1950s have distinguished between ``advocacy of belief and advocacy of action.'' She says the act has rarely been used and the ``current whipped-up frenzy against Arabs and Palestinians,'' aggravated by violence in the Middle East, has set the scene for constitutional violations in the name of national security.
Rep. Barney Frank (D) of Massachusetts in February introduced a bill that would, among other things, repeal the ``ideological exclusions'' provisions of the McCarran-Walter Act, including those the Palestinians are accused of breaking. The bill would not affect the provisions that allow the US to exclude terrorists.
In briefs filed in court, the Justice Department charges the Palestinians with being involved in activities on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), purportedly a Marxist-Leninist international terrorist organization advocating violent overthrow of the United States and other governments.
``The PFLP operates both overt and covert missions in the United States to carry out its goals,'' the brief says. ``The PFLP's purposes are accomplished through the use of illegal and violent means, bombings, shootings, and hijackings. These purposes are also accomplished by the PFLP's publishing and distributing literature promoting communism.''
The defendants deny being affiliated with the group.
INS spokesman Duke Austin says, ``We don't have to wait until somebody blows up a bus or a plane before we deport them. We're not suggesting they be put in jail - we're suggesting they go home.'' He says INS has evidence that the Palestinians' departure would be in the ``best interests of the US.''
FBI spokeswoman Susan Shnitzer says the bureau conducted an investigation of the defendants but found ``no evidence of federal violations we had jurisdiction over.'' As a result, she says, the FBI turned over information ``we thought would be helpful to INS.'' She says the information will not be made public until the April 28 hearing.
ACLU attorneys say the proceedings against the Palestinians are an extension of a government contingency plan prepared in May 1986 and discussed at an interagency meeting in September.
The plan reportedly calls for use of the McCarran-Walter Act to expel foreign nationals, explicitly says to ``routinely hold any alien so charged without bond,'' and designates representatives from INS, FBI, the US Customs Service, and the Central Intelligence Agency who are responsible for executing the plan. The plan also speaks of a ``target group'' of 10,000 aliens and specifically gives numbers of people from Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Iran, Jordan, Syria, Morocco, and Lebanon who have overstayed visas.
``That never was endorsed, that was a talking paper, an option'' says INS spokesman Austin of the plan. ``We categorically deny any such plan to round up [Arab aliens]. These were things suggested to talk about at irregular meetings of an ad hoc committee.''
``Ethnic origin has never been an issue. These individuals will have their day in court,'' says Oliver (Buck) Revell, the FBI's executive assistant director for investigations. He asserts that the Justice Department, INS, and FBI have no interest ``whatsoever in denying any individuals their constitutionally protected rights to engage in political dissent.''
He adds, ``We will, however, investigate when we have a basis to do so. And that, we have done, with the Jewish groups, Irish groups, Armenian groups, and we will do it with Arab and Palestinian groups where we have a basis to do so, but it will be done within the law.''
Dan Stormer, the chief counsel defending the Palestinians, says, ``It is not insignificant that on Jan. 24 more hostages were taken in the Middle East. Merely two days later my clients were arrested and taken to jail. This is Arab-bashing, this is prejudice.''
Paul Hoffman, another lawyer for the defendants, says ``The Palestinian community in this country is in constant debate over what's going on in the Middle East. The [Palestine Liberation Organization] and groups left of center are intimately involved in that debate. When you say you can't sympathize with that speech or get deported, that's a serious problem.''
Mr. Hoffman adds that the case has had a ``chilling effect'' on political debate within the Arab-American community.