Appellate court rejects terrorism accusation in immigration case

By Elizabeth Young | Mar 13, 2013

1985 photo of Mujahedeen fighters.

NEW ORLEANS –  The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed a lower court’s ruling in the immigration proceedings of an Iranian national.

Tom Amrollah originally filed suit against Janet Napolitano, Secretary, Department of Homeland Security; Alejandro Mayorkas, Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services; Gerard Heinauer, Director of the Nebraska Service Center for Citizenship and Immigration Services; Robert Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Eric H. Holder Jr., U.S. Attorney General in Western District of Texas.

According to court papers, in 1979, during the Iranian Revolution, Amrollah was working as a pharmacist in Iran. He began providing prescription medications and bandages to the mujahedeen movement.

The U.S. government claims that the mujahedeen movement is indistinguishable from Mojahedin-e-Khalq, a revolutionary Iranian organization. The Department of State classified Mojahedin-e-Khalq a Tier I Foreign Terrorist Organization in 1997.

On Sept. 28, 2012, Secretary Clinton lifted this classification after multiple appeals from Mojahedin-e-Khalq that it had disarmed and been non-violent since 2003.

Although he never formally joined the mujahedeen movement, Amrollah was arrested for his support of the movement in 1982. He was convicted to a year in prison and 30 lashes.

After he was released from prison he continued to provide medications for the movement as well as donate money for pamphlets. He was arrested again and sentenced to six months in prison, after which he ceased supporting the movement.

Two years later he received a subpoena to appear before an Iranian religious court. Amrollah and his family fled to the United States entering illegally near Eagle Pass, Texas, in July of 1998.

Amrollah, his wife and two children were granted asylum in the United States in 1998. Amrollah admitted his former support for the mujahedeen movement in his petition and hearing before the immigration judge, but was not disqualified from asylum because his testimony showed he did not commit any violent act.

One year later the family applied for lawful permanent resident status. The children’s applications were approved in 2004 and 2005. The two remaining applications were still pending in 2009 when Tom Amrollah filled is original complaint asking that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services be compelled to action on both applications.

The government granted Amrollah’s wife’s application but denied Amrollah’s application without a hearing after concluding that Amrollah had engaged in terrorist activity by providing material support to a terrorist organization or the member of such an organization.

Amrollah filed an amended complaint claiming the government wrongly denied his application. The district court found in favor of the government and Amrollah appealed.

Circuit Judge Edith Brown Clement, writing on behalf of the panel that also includes Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart and Circuit Judge W. Eugene Davis, writes that the government was collaterally estopped from finding that Amrollah engaged in terrorist activity because his grant of asylum necessarily included a determination that he did not provide material support to a terrorist organization or a member of such an organization.

The court concludes that the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services’s denial of Amrollah’s application is set aside, they reverse the decision of the district court granting summary judgement to the defendants, render a summary judgement for the plaintiff, and remand the case to the appropriate agency for proceedings not inconstant with the opinion.

Case No. 12-50357

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