On April 17, the Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to pay a dangerous Islamist organization to provide legal representation to immigrants facing deportation.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has a history of defending high-risk Muslim immigrants involved in terrorism-related offenses. With the mayor's approval, CAIR's LA chapter will soon receive portions of a $4 million grant to represent "detained and non-detained" migrants in removal proceedings.
CAIR-LA's contractual services are part of a public-private partnership called RepresentLA, a citywide program that promises to provide due process for immigrants. CAIR is one of a handful of nonprofits tasked with supporting "affirmative immigration relief" with taxpayer and private foundation monies.
Los Angeles is a "City of Sanctuary," and since state laws and city policies prohibit local police from questioning or detaining a person based on citizenship status, many of the "detained" deportees that CAIR is now tasked with defending may be incarcerated for more serious offenses. The city's contract with CAIR comes as "interior deportations" under the Biden administration have reached record low numbers, according to Todd Bensman, National Security Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies.
"If they're facing deportation proceedings," Bensman told Focus on Western Islamism, referring to detained immigrants, "there's probably some highly derogatory national intelligence information on them, because the Biden administration does not deport."
With help from CAIR, activist judges may find cause to block deportations and release more illegal immigrants into American cities. Still more alarming, CAIR's history of activism and legal maneuvering on behalf of immigrants suggests that deportees suspected of serious terrorism-related offenses may soon benefit from a taxpayer-funded legal defense.
A self-declared "Muslim civil advocacy organization," CAIR was established as an outgrowth of a Hamas publicity front, according to federal law enforcement, and was listed as an unindicted conspirator in a landmark terror finance trial involving the same Palestinian terrorist group. Today, CAIR is increasingly involved in progressive causes and often joins intersectional alliances with the far left, advocating for a curious mix of Islamist and socially liberal ideals.
For example, CAIR has organized rallies and fundraisers to free "Lady Al Qaeda" Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist arrested in Afghanistan with plans for a "mass casualty attack" at various locations in the United States. Serving an 86-year sentence for trying to kill her American captors, Siddiqui's case is just one instance where CAIR has sought to portray genuine national security concerns as an assault on Muslim civil liberties.
CAIR's lack of concern for public safety extends to the border. In the months following 9/11, when immigration authorities sought out Muslim and Arab visitors "from countries with highly active Al Qaeda networks" who were facing deportation orders, CAIR accused the government of "singling out" Muslims in "a two-tiered justice system."
After University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian faced a 17-count indictment for terrorism crimes and immigration fraud, CAIR founder Nihad Awad attended a fundraiser in support of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) leader. CAIR continued to fight for Al-Arian following his conviction for providing material support to a foreign terrorist group, conferring a "Promoting Justice" award to Al-Arian and expressing "regret" over his imminent deportation.
More recently, CAIR's California branches publicly defended and filed legal motions in support of Omar Ameen, an accused member of Al Qaeda and ISIS who was facing extradition for his alleged involvement in the 2014 murder of an Iraqi police officer. A federal judge ruled that prosecutors, who relied on witness testimony gathered from a war zone, failed to prove the terrorism case against Ameen, but determined he lied on his immigration papers to gain entry to the U.S.
In a decision that CAIR "welcome[d]," an immigration judge subsequently blocked attempts to deport Ameen over fears he might be tortured by Iraqi authorities. However, the same judge later denied the defendant's bid to be released on bond, calling him a "danger to the community" after hearing new evidence from FBI and naval intelligence officers.
CAIR-LA, set to receive its portion of a $4 million grant to defend deportees, has its own history of advocating for criminal immigrants. In 2004, the LA branch held a townhall meeting to discuss the government's alleged "targeting" of Muslim religious leaders, including Wagdy Ghoneim and Abdul Jabbar Hamdan.
A former imam at the Islamic Institute of Orange County, Ghoneim was arrested over immigration violations and deported due to a history of extremist statements, such as sanctioning suicide bombings and calling Jews the "descendants of apes and pigs" at a CAIR rally. CAIR-LA Executive Director Hussam Ayloush defended Ghoneim, arguing that, "The whole Muslim community today is under a microscope of scrutiny."
For his part, Hamdam faced deportation after overstaying his student visa by 27-years. He was considered a "chief fundraiser" for the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity whose leaders received lengthy prison sentences for funneling millions to Hamas, and the same group with which prosecutors accused CAIR of conspiring.
LA City Councilmember Kevin de León, who has refused to resign despite his involvement in a racially-charged scandal, introduced the motion to fund RepresentLA and applauded the city council's decision to launch the program. "Due process is everyone's concern," de León said. "It's also every human beings' fundamental right. Regardless of who you are, where you come from, due process is fundamental to personal justice."
Bensman is less optimistic about CAIR's potential city-funded mandate to represent incarcerated deportees. "These campaigns work," he warned, pointing to a recent case where immigration authorities released a border-hopping terror suspect, merely because his weight put him at risk of coronavirus symptoms.
"I suspect that they work contrary to national security interests and contrary to derogatory information that national intelligence agencies have collected on people," Bensman added.
LA's new immigration program awaits final approval from Mayor Karen Bass, a long-time supporter of open borders and decriminalizing immigration.
Benjamin Baird is the Director of MEF Action, an advocacy project of the Middle East Forum.