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York, PA: Protest Attracts Support

Protest attracts support
Prison rally may draw larger crowd
By By LAURI LEBO Dispatch/Sunday News

Organizers say Saturday's rally in support of immigration detainees at the
York County Prison may attract considerably more than the 1,000 protesters
they initially expected.

The Convergence for Human Rights rally, to be held at the prison in
Springettsbury Township, was planned to draw attention to the stories of
detainees, who rally organizers say are victims of human rights
violations.

The event is drawing widening support, according to Craig Ilgenfritz of
York, a Convergence for Human Rights spokesman. "It's looking good," he
said.

The prison is the site of one of the largest detention centers for the
federal Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the country and
houses approximately 500 detainees.

The federal policy of detaining asylum-seekers existed well before the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, but in the past two years, more people have
been detained on apparently minor infractions, Ilgenfritz said.

Many noncitizens arrested on minor immigration violations are being
detained indefinitely in prison even though they have not been charged
with a crime, he said.

The rally will include a demonstration at the now-closed Caterpillar plant
near the prison, where the group will protest the sale of company
bulldozers to Israel.

Ilgenfritz said that after a suicide bombings by Palestinians, Israel uses
specially fitted bulldozers to destroy the bomber's entire settlement -- a
form of collective punishment that punishes people who had nothing to do
with the bombing.

Both Israel's use of the bulldozers and the Department of Homeland
Security's policy of locking up asylum seekers violate international law,
Ilgenfritz said.

Rally participants say they hope the demonstration will make residents of
York County aware of their connection to worldwide human rights abuses,
Ilgenfritz said.

Protest postponed: The rally was originally scheduled Oct. 18 by a group
of self-described anarchists and communists, but was postponed and later
rescheduled for Saturday after concerns the event had lost its focus.

In preparation, Ilgenfritz said, organizers held classes throughout the
region, including Philadelphia and Baltimore, "educating people on the
issues in terms of this rally."

As part of a compromise with Springettsbury Township officials,
protesters, who are converging at Springettsbury Park, have agreed to be
confined to specific areas. In addition, no back packs or bags will be
allowed and police reserve the right to search people, Ilgenfritz said.

Springettsbury Township police could not be reached for comment.

Also, while rally organizers have not yet received an invoice, township
officials have said they may bill them for police protection, which could
include local and state police as well as fire police, Ilgenfritz said.

But Ilgenfritz said billing people for the right to express themselves is
a violation of the First Amendment.

Stateless: The problems of various detainees are outlined on the
Convergence for Human Rights' Web site: But the rally is
not only about specific detainees.

Rather, their cases illustrate what organizers consider to be large-scale
human rights abuses.

A recent case in York County is Ashraf al-Jailani, a permanent legal
resident from Yemen, brought to York County Prison last month for a bond
hearing. He has been imprisoned for more than a year, suspected of having
terrorist connections. But since his arrest, he has not been formally
charged, nor has the FBI interviewed him.

In March, Judge Walter Durling ordered al-Jailani freed on $1,500 bail,
but the Department of Homeland Security blocked the order, and a
government immigration lawyer filed a motion in July asking for bail to be
revoked.

His attorney, Farhad Sethna, said he is hopeful the judge will decide this
week whether to grant his client bail.

Meanwhile, one of the other men whose arrest has garnered widespread
attention remains in prison, caught in a deportation quagmire.

Earlier this month, Farouk Abdel-Muhti, who has been imprisoned for the
past 18 months, was transferred from York County Prison to Bergen County
Prison in New Jersey. His case caught the attention of immigration-rights
groups because he was arrested based on a 1995 deportation order, but the
arrest came one month after he started a New York radio show airing the
grievances of Palestinians.

But because he was born in the West Bank in 1947, a region that is now
disputed territory, Abdel-Muhti is essentially stateless. His birth
certificate says he is from Jordan. But in 1967, during the Six Day War,
Israel occupied the West Bank and it has remained disputed territory
since.

Neither Israel nor Jordan will take him. But the United States refuses to
let him out of prison.

U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane in Harrisburg is considering a renewed
petition, and immigration officials in Newark are scheduled to review
Abdel-Muhti's eligibility for release under supervision.