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Freed Palestinian fights deportation order
MIAMI, Florida -- A Palestinian university teacher who spent more than three-and-a-half years in jail because of secret evidence alleging that he was a terrorist is now fighting the U.S. government's efforts to deport him.
Mazen Al-Najjar, 44, freed on December 15, -- 1,307 days after he was detained for overstaying his student visa. He was never charged with a crime or told specifically why he was detained.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service said Al-Najjar was associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and had transferred money to the terrorist group.
Al-Najjar denies any wrongdoing.
"I have never been a member of any Palestinian organization or any militant organization. I have never practiced violence," he said.
The U.S. government never revealed the source or the details of its information. It was only after a federal judge ruled Al-Najjar's due process rights had been violated that he was released.
The Board of Immigration Appeals now says he should be deported to Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates. Al-Najjar appealed the order Tuesday to a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Miami.
Democratic Congressman David Bonior supports Al-Najjar, and says he knows of 30 such cases. He's sponsoring a bill to limit the use of secret evidence in immigration cases.
"Secret evidence runs against the Bill of Rights, and the fabric and the foundation of our Constitution, which says every person who is charged has the right to face their accuser and the accusations made against them," Bonior said.
But others argue that immigrants like Al-Najjar don't have the same rights as U.S. citizens, and that secret evidence is necessary to fight terrorism.
"The use of secret evidence protects vital U.S. sources, vital U.S. infiltration methods. To repeal it would be to hamstring the government's ability to protect the American people," said Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform.
Mazen Al-Najjar came to the U.S. in 1981 and overstayed his student visa. He settled in Tampa, Florida, raised a family, taught Arabic at the University of South Florida, and served as a Muslim cleric.
In 1995, he applied for asylum, claiming, in part, he and his American-born daughters would be discriminated against if returned to the Middle East. But in 1997, he received a deportation order and was detained.
The Justice Department supports the deportation order, and expects a court ruling in a few months.
CNN Correspondent Mark Porter and Reuters contributed to this report.
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