Sunday, September 14, 2008

Lemorin acquitted in Liberty City Seven case, now caught in immigration lockup limbo (Miami Herald)

Lemorin acquitted in Liberty City Seven case, now caught in immigration lockup limbo
In the post-911 United States, acquittal on terrorism charges doesn't necessarily make you free. Just ask Lyglenson Lemorin, a non-citizen confined at Krome.

Posted on Sun, Sep. 14, 2008

Before he was acquitted of terrorism charges, Lyglenson Lemorin spent a year and a half in prison. Since then, the legal U.S. resident has been locked up for nine months by immigration authorities.

Now he may spend years more in detention as he fights an uphill battle against government efforts to deport him to his native Haiti -- an effort based on the U.S. Department of Justice's contention that he is, in fact, a terrorist, despite his acquittal by a federal jury.

And, in the end, Lemorin might never again be a free man on U.S. soil.

Lower standards of proof in the immigration court system -- not a fully independent tribunal, but part of the U.S. Department of Justice -- mean the case that did not stand up in criminal court may well lead to Lemorin's deportation to a country he left as a boy.

The unusual case underscores the expanded powers to detain and deport noncitizens that Congress has granted to U.S. immigration authorities in the past decade, and their willingness to use them, particularly in a post-9/11 period marked by national security concerns.

In Lemorin's case, though, at least some immigration experts believe the government may be overreaching.

''If the government can't get you one way, they will get you another way,'' said Ira Kurzban, author of a widely used immigration-law textbook and a longtime critic of U.S. government immigration policies.

``To keep him detained simply because they can is vindictive.''

The conditions under which Lemorin has been held have at times been tough: During a two-week deportation hearing that concluded earlier this month at the Krome immigration detention center in West Miami-Dade County, Lemorin was put in a segregation cell under 24-hour surveillance with the lights on continually, making sleep difficult, his attorneys say.

His three young children, who have not seen their father in a year and a half, were denied a chance to visit him by Krome officials, Lemorin's wife and lawyers say.

That's after he was spirited away to an immigration detention center in rural Georgia immediately after his acquittal in December. Lemorin has spent the past nine months there, hundreds of miles from his family and attorneys.

In Georgia, however, Lemorin was held in the general population, with no special security restrictions.

What changed upon his transfer to Krome?

Citing security reasons, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials won't say.

In an e-mailed response to questions, ICE confirmed that Lemorin was being held in a ''special housing unit'' cell where lights remain on around the clock for security. Lemorin was not permitted to see his family when they arrived for regular visitation hours because he did not submit a request form in time, ICE said.

ICE would not say whether Lemorin will remain at Krome or be transferred. His family prefers that he remain close to home, but Lemorin said he would rather transfer if it meant getting out of segregation.

The only sure thing for Lemorin: ''He will continue to be held by ICE,'' said agency spokeswoman Nicole Navas.


The treatment of Lemorin seems a marked contrast to that of some of his co-defendants in the so-called Liberty City Seven case: Four of the six still facing terrorism charges for allegedly conspiring to blow up Chicago's Sears Tower and Miami's FBI building have been free since December on bonds granted by a federal judge. A retrial for all six is scheduled for January after two earlier trials ended in hung juries.

The difference? Unlike the other four not currently in prison, Lemorin, 33, is a legal resident but not a U.S. citizen. That makes him subject to immigration detention, and ultimately deportation.

Lemorin's wife, Charlene Mingo Lemorin, and his lawyers say they believe the government is trying to break his morale and save face after losing the criminal case.

''It's punishment, pure and simple,'' said Joel DeFabio, a Miami defense attorney who has represented Lemorin in both his criminal and immigration cases.

Making matters worse for the Lemorins, they say, is the fact that Mingo has kidney disease and may require a transplant. The couple lost a child who was born prematurely, while Lemorin was in prison, because of medical complications that resulted in Mingo's kidney damage.

''They're not torturing us physically, but they're torturing us mentally,'' Mingo said of government officials in a telephone interview interrupted several times by soft weeping. ``We're trying to stay strong, but they're just trying to destroy us.''

One immigration expert not connected with the case called the government attempt to deport Lemorin, as well as his continued detention, ``outrageous.''

''The government has been using this tactic for years,'' said Marc Van Der Hout, a San Francisco immigration attorney. ``They use the immigration system to try to deport people when their case won't stand up in criminal court. The government uses custody to get people to give up.''

Last year, Van Der Hout won a 20-year battle for two Palestinian immigrants. The government tried to deport them for alleged links to Middle East terrorism even though the FBI had concluded there were no grounds for criminal charges.

Lemorin, who has no other criminal convictions, is the only one of the Liberty City Seven to be acquitted.

Interviews with jurors after the trial suggested they were persuaded that Lemorin joined what he believed to be a religious group for spiritual reasons, had little knowledge of or involvement in any terrorist schemes, and moved his family to Atlanta to get away from the group's leaders after he was tricked by them into taking an oath of allegiance to al Qaeda.

ICE filed civil charges against Lemorin in immigration court on virtually the same grounds he was cleared on: In a nutshell, that he willingly participated in plotting attacks on U.S. soil.

U.S. Immigration Court Judge Kenneth Hurewitz ruled that the charges mandate Lemorin's detention until the case is decided. Lemorin's slim hopes for a quick release rest on an appeal of Hurewitz's detention order his lawyers have filed.

Hurewitz, meanwhile, said he would likely rule on the deportation in early November. Even if Lemorin wins, his attorneys said they expect ICE to appeal. The case could go all the way up to federal appeals courts, and potentially the U.S. Supreme Court, said Lemorin's Atlanta-based immigration attorney, Charles Kuck.

That process could easily take a couple of years, during which Lemorin would likely remain detained.

The government's case against him proved unpersuasive to the federal jury, but ICE attorneys may not need much evidence to persuade Hurewitz to order him deported because of lower standards of proof in the immigration system.


Lemorin's attorneys contend the government must prove their case by ''clear and convincing evidence'' -- a high standard just short of the ''beyond a reasonable doubt'' threshold in criminal cases. But ICE contends they need only to show that most of the evidence is on their side -- just enough to provide the attorney general ''reasonable grounds'' to conclude Lemorin was engaged in terrorist activity, or is likely to do so.

Hurewitz asked for written arguments on the issue before he decides on the deportation.

But Van Der Hout, the California attorney, said immigrants involved in high-stakes cases like Lemorin often have a hard time winning, noting that immigration judges and the board that hears appeals both work for the attorney general.

'Here you have the hand-picked surrogates of the attorney general on the Board of Immigration Appeals, deciding in an alleged national-security case whether to reject their bosses' argument,'' he said.

``It's a stacked deck.''

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