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2009-08-24

Youssef Megahed Freed After Immigration Judge Throws Out Government’s Deportation Case

Guests

Youssef Megahed, released from immigration detention.

Charles Kuck, Youssef Megahed’s immigration lawyer. He is the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

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A Florida immigration judge on Friday dismissed the government’s deportation case against Youssef Megahed and released him from the detention center in South Florida where he had spent the last four months. Youssef was arrested by federal immigration agents outside a Wal-Mart in Tampa this April, just three days after a jury acquitted him on federal explosives charges. We speak to Youssef in his first extended broadcast interview since his release and with his attorney, Charles Kuck. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

We turn now to a victory in the case of Youssef Megahed, the twenty-three-year-old University of South Florida student who was born in Egypt, a permanent resident here in the United States, legal resident for over eleven years. Well, on Friday, a Florida immigration judge dismissed the government’s deportation case against Youssef and released him from the Krome Detention Center in South Florida. Youssef was arrested by federal immigration agents outside a Wal-Mart in Tampa this April, just three days after a jury acquitted him on federal explosives charges.

After hearing a week of evidence put forward by Homeland Security attorneys, Immigration Judge Kenneth Hurewitz said, quote, “I don’t believe the government has met its burden in this case.” He dismissed the case and all the terrorism-related charges against Youssef before the defense had to present any witnesses. A written ruling explaining his decision is expected in the next thirty days.

Youssef Megahed spoke to reporters Friday, shortly after reuniting with his family.

    YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

    I feel happy again that the truth came out and this is all over. I feel good.

AMY GOODMAN:

Youssef’s father, Samir Megahed, also spoke and made a request to the US government.

    SAMIR MEGAHED: Please let us, Megahed family, live here in peace.

AMY GOODMAN:

Well, we’re joined right now from Tampa by Youssef Megahed, himself, for his first extended broadcast interview since his release. We’re also joined on the phone from Atlanta, Georgia, by Charles Kuck, Youssef Megahed’s attorney.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now!

Youssef Megahed, your thoughts today, after not one, but two prosecutions? The first, you were acquitted by a jury, and the second, which moved from a criminal case to an immigration case, the judge threw out the case. Your feelings today?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I’m very happy for this. It’s all over. Now I can go back to university and finish my degree.

AMY GOODMAN:

Are you planning to go back to the University of South Florida?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yes, I am trying to.

AMY GOODMAN:

And what will your degree be in?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Bachelor’s of Science in mechanical engineering.

AMY GOODMAN:

Charles Kuck, what happened in this case, in Youssef’s case? Take us back to the beginning. We’ve been following this for many months now. But first, the acquittal by a jury in April, a full acquittal, and then in being picked up at Wal-Mart three days later by immigration authorities and recharged on basically the same charges.

CHARLES KUCK:

Well, what we saw here was a government that didn’t want — didn’t like losing in front of the jury, the charges that they had invented against Youssef. And as a result, three days after his acquittal, the Immigration Service was involved and picked him up while shopping at a Wal-Mart and then, for the last four months, has basically kept him in prison, not an immigration holding facility, but a real jail with real criminals, until this case was heard this last week in front of Judge Hurewitz in Miami.

During the hearing, what we were able to do is allow the government — in fact, we demanded the government put on all the evidence they had in the case. And the only thing the government did — and I think it’s important for people to understand this — is they put on a supervisory FBI agent who testified about what other people investigated, and they put on a forensics computer examiner who basically said, “Here’s Youssef’s history on his computer,” without giving context to either of those.

And when we pointed out and were able to discuss what these two witnesses — the actual context of the allegations against Youssef, it became crystal clear that there was nothing there. There was simply no basis to the charges against Youssef.

AMY GOODMAN:

Now, Charles Kuck, you’re the past president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

CHARLES KUCK:

That’s correct.

AMY GOODMAN:

You had a case that was somewhat similar in which — what was it called? The Liberty Six or the Liberty Seven, though you were representing the seventh person.

CHARLES KUCK:

That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN:

He ultimately was deported.

CHARLES KUCK:

Well, he wasn’t deported yet. We had a trial for Lyglenson Lemorin in front of the same judge, with the same prosecutors in Miami, during the same week last year in August. And at that point, the immigration judge, Hurewitz, ultimately found that the government had met its burden of proof. I believe the judge is wrong in that case. In fact, we’re on appeal right now, and Mr. Lemorin remains detained by the Immigration Service in Hernando County Jail in Florida.

AMY GOODMAN:

And so, you have this case where your hopes weren’t that high, were they?

CHARLES KUCK:

I was certainly concerned, because you never know what evidence the government may be holding back in immigration court. Unlike in the criminal context, where the government must produce all their evidence, the immigration court system is kind of like the Wild West: you go in there, and the government surprises you with whatever weapons they happen to have.

AMY GOODMAN:

You know, there are many, as we followed this case, lawyers, too, writing, “Why wasn’t this double jeopardy?” I mean, you’ve got the technicality — and it’s not just a technicality — of the first case being brought in criminal court. When we last spoke, we had on the jury foreman who himself was a lawyer.

CHARLES KUCK:

Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN:

And they felt that jury nullification had taken place, that the jury had ruled, that they had acquitted Youssef, and then three days later, as he’s shopping with his dad at Wal-Mart, he’s picked up by the immigration authorities. How this can happen?

CHARLES KUCK:

Well, it happens because Congress says it can happen. That’s how the system has been designed by Congress. It’s been designed to give lots of arrows to the quivers of prosecutors and those that seek to deport people from the United States. As a result, if somebody is acquitted of criminal charges, they can still be deportable under certain grounds from the United States. It happens all the time. Americans are just realizing it now in Youssef’s case. But this is not the first, and it won’t be the last time it happens.

AMY GOODMAN:

You know, there are many immigrants, legal immigrants, in this country who just never bothered to go through the process to get full citizenship.

CHARLES KUCK:

Mm-hmm.

AMY GOODMAN:

Is this an example of where citizenship makes an enormous difference?

CHARLES KUCK:

Oh, absolutely. If Youssef had been naturalized by the time he had been arrested up in Goose Creek, South Carolina on August 3rd, 2007, this would not have happened. We would not be having this conversation today.

Becoming naturalized, I believe, is the most important obligation of a permanent resident, because it then gives you the full protections and removes you from the immigration system that you might otherwise be subject to.

AMY GOODMAN:

Youssef Megahed, do you plan on applying for US citizenship? Your parents, just two weeks ago, when we were talking to you from the detention center, where we could hardly hear you on the phone with almost a hundred men in the same room as you, your parents, that day, got their American citizenship.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yes, I will try to get US citizenship.

AMY GOODMAN:

And Charles Kuck, how does that work?

CHARLES KUCK:

Well, one thing most people don’t realize is that Youssef has had a citizenship application pending for two years. He’d actually applied shortly before his arrest. We are going to be following up today with the USCIS — that’s the organization that actually runs the naturalization part of the system — and demanding that they set an interview for Youssef to interview him on his now two-year-old citizenship application.

AMY GOODMAN:

Youssef, you were interviewed for your citizenship?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

No, I just applied, but I got arrested.

AMY GOODMAN:

Mm-hmm.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

A month after applying.

AMY GOODMAN:

Youssef, describe the turning points in this case. When you were acquitted, your feeling that day? Not when the case was dismissed by this immigration judge, but when you went before a jury of your peers and you were acquitted, what were your feelings that day, when your dad shook hands with the FBI, the prosecutors, the judge and said, “Thank you”?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I was happy for this, like, the government allegations were proved baseless and false. We went — I waited almost two years to go to trial to prove these facts as wrong, like the government allegations as wrong.

AMY GOODMAN:

And were you held in detention, in jail, all that time?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Almost more than half the time during the arrest I was held on house arrest. I could not go to university during the house arrest, or work.

AMY GOODMAN:

So that was for that period, for almost —

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:

— a year. Then you’re acquitted.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

No.

AMY GOODMAN:

Oh, sorry?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Almost two years.

AMY GOODMAN:

You were —

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Like twenty-one months.

AMY GOODMAN:

— in house arrest and in detention for almost two years.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yes.

AMY GOODMAN:

Then you were acquitted. And your feeling, three days later, when you were shopping with your dad at Wal-Mart and got the call from the lawyer and walked out into the parking lot, in Wal-Mart’s parking lot? What happened?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I was surrounded by many ICE people, which is Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And they told me, like, they have to arrest me for some ICE law, but they did not specify. But I was never expecting such a thing, to be arrested again after being acquitted.

AMY GOODMAN:

And so, you were then held in detention again. Where?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I stayed like a few hours at a Tampa — like, they held you at the same facility where you get the naturalization, like they have a back area for holding. Then they moved me later this night to Glades County Sherriff’s Jail.

AMY GOODMAN:

And then you were brought into immigration court. When the judge ruled, without one defense witness being brought forward, just after the prosecution rested its case, when the judge threw the case out, did you understand what actually had happened?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I was not understanding the order, it’s a very closed case. But later, my lawyer, Mr. Charles Kuck, explained it to me, and he told me the case is over.

AMY GOODMAN:

And you’re free.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN:

Your father, Samir Megahed, asked for the government to stop hunting you at this point, after these two cases.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yes, he said so to the media.

AMY GOODMAN:

What does your freedom mean to you today, and do you have faith that this is over?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Yeah, I have faith. I think it’s all over, because the government had no case against me, because I did nothing wrong.

AMY GOODMAN:

Charles Kuck, is Youssef completely free now?

CHARLES KUCK:

Well, let’s not say completely free. The government still has thirty days from the date the judge makes an official written decision. The judge said, when he ruled on Friday, that he would need time to write up the details of why he made his decision. And the government will have thirty days from that date to appeal.

We hope to bring pressure on the government and point out to Attorney General Holder and Secretary Napolitano that enough is enough and to let Youssef get back to his life and keep contributing to America as a permanent resident, hopefully soon as citizen.

AMY GOODMAN:

Charles Kuck, I want to thank you for being with us, and Youssef Megahed. Youssef, your final thoughts to share with not only an American audience here in the United States, but because we broadcast around the world at democracynow.org, final thoughts on this case?

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

I think people should read and get to know more about the immigration laws of the US and the regulations of the immigration in the United States.

AMY GOODMAN:

I want to thank you both for being with us. Youssef Megahed, again, once again free. And Charles Kuck, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He is Youssef Megahed’s attorney.

CHARLES KUCK:

Thank you.

YOUSSEF MEGAHED:

Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN:

To see all of the coverage on Youssef’s case, you can go to our website at [democracynow.org]. Also, special thanks to the Tampa PBS studio for hosting Youssef today and to Jacquie Soohen.

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