- The Hells Angels motorcycle club claims charters in 35 countries
- The group is suing to protest a federal policy barring its foreign members from the U.S.
- It also is fighting its federal designation as a "known criminal organization"
- There was no immediate reaction to the lawsuit from government officials
The Hells Angels are going to court, protesting a federal policy barring the motorcycle club's foreign members from visiting the United States.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Washington, the Hells Angels Motorcycle Corporation, as the group calls itself, said its designation as a "known criminal organization" by the departments of Homeland Security and State violates immigration law and the group's constitutional rights.
Lawyers for the Los Angeles-area-based group describe its membership as composed of loosely associated charters, "made up of motorcycle enthusiasts who have joined to ride motorcycles together, organize social events, fundraisers, parties and motorcycle rallies."
Founded in 1948 in southern California, Hells Angels claim charters in 35 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, England, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, South Africa, Sweden, Turkey, the United States and Wales.
The group is asking for a temporary injunction, allowing foreign members to be granted visas to travel to the United States. In its lawsuit, the group claims the government routinely denies visas "to all aliens based solely on their membership in a Hells Angels charter without further analysis into whether or not that individual seeks to enter the United States to engage solely, principally, or incidentally in unlawful activity."
The motorcycle group also seeks to have its "criminal organization" designation removed.
The Obama administration is expected to respond to the lawsuit in coming weeks, when a federal judge would decide the injunction request, and later, the larger legal questions raised. There was no immediate response to the lawsuit from government officials.
A number of federal and state prosecutors and law enforcement organizations have called the Hells Angels a criminal motorcycle gang, along with their alleged rivals the Bandidos, Outlaws, and Pagans.
Some of its members have been prosecuted for committing felonies including drug dealing, extortion, and other violent crimes.
The Hells Angels as a group has said any crimes committed by its members have been done as individual acts, and are not representative of the club as a whole.
The case is Hells Angels Motorcycle Corp. v. Napolitano (1:12-cv-1357).