Federal prosecutors are urging a judge to dismiss a petition challenging the detention of Sameeh Hammoudeh.
The government has a right to hold Hammoudeh for up to six months, pending his deportation, according to prosecution pleadings filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore has scheduled a hearing for this afternoon to consider the petition.
In court papers filed Tuesday, federal officials appeared to blame Israel for the delay in deporting Hammoudeh.
Hammoudeh, 46, who was born in Bethlehem, was acquitted in December in the Sami Al-Arian case in which he was alleged to have been involved in fundraising for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, an organization in the occupied territories of Israel that the United States has classified as a terrorist group.
Before the Al-Arian trial, Hammoudeh and his wife pleaded guilty to unrelated fraud charges. Under a plea deal, both were sentenced to five years' probation, with a condition that they agree to be deported. Hammoudeh's wife, Nadia, was deported in February.
While awaiting trial in the Al-Arian case, Sameeh Hammoudeh spent nearly three years in prison without bail. After the Al-Arian verdict, he was transferred to the custody of federal immigration officials, who have held him in a detention facility in Bradenton.
An affidavit filed by Deportation Officer Jaime Alfaro states that Hammoudeh's "ultimate destination to the Palestinian territories requires passage through a checkpoint under Israeli control." Alfaro says in the affidavit that the U.S. government filed the appropriate paperwork with Israel in January. "The Israeli government has been undertaking its standard security checks prior to making a decision regarding Mr. Hammoudeh's return."
Alfaro says in the affidavit that he was aware of a report in the St. Petersburg Times in which Israeli officials were quoted as saying they had no objection to Hammoudeh's return. "Through appropriate diplomatic inquiries, the U.S. government has attempted to verify the accuracy of this news report, and the statements of Israeli officials in particular, but has not received a response to those inquiries at this time."
Israeli officials contacted Tuesday said they would be unable to comment that day.
Hammoudeh's attorney, Stephen Bernstein, said Nadia Hammoudeh went through the checkpoint with no trouble and Sameeh Hammoudeh should be able to do the same.
"Our whole case is going to be predicated on the fact that his wife did it," Bernstein said.
Bernstein also disputes the prosecution's position that Hammoudeh could not challenge his detention until he has been held for six months. The attorney says the law that allows the government to hold him that long also allows the detainee to challenge the government.
The prosecution argues in court papers that because of the six-month provision, Whittemore has no jurisdiction in this case. Government prosecutors successfully argued that two other judges - an immigration judge and the judge who sentenced Hammoudeh in the fraud case - did not have jurisdiction in the matter.