LOS ANGELES - A federal judge ruled today that a Palestinian man who came to the United States more than two decades ago seeking a better future should become a U.S. citizen.
The historic case, Barakat v. Arellano, was argued by David Cole for the Center for Constitutional Rights, Ahilan Arulanantham of the ACLU of Southern California, and Carol Sobel and Marc Van Der Hout for the National Lawyer's Guild.
Aiad Barakat, 45, was granted citizenship today after a federal trial in front of Judge Stephen Wilson that concluded today. Barakat is one of the 'L.A. 8,' a group of eight people who were targeted by the government nearly 20 years ago for engaging in political speech and supporting Palestinian right. None of the "Eight" was ever charged with a crime, and a federal court determined that their activity was protected by the First Amendment. But Barakat's application for citizenship was denied based on the same allegations that the government had failed to prove 20 years ago.
Barakat then appealed the government's decision to federal court. Judge Wilson issued his decision Friday.
'I am very pleased. I have waited for this day for almost 20 years,' Barakat said. 'I'm hopeful that the government will quickly issue me a passport so that I can travel back to the Middle East to visit my elderly mother, something I haven't been able to do since to this country.'
Barakat is the first of the 'L.A. 8" to become a citizen.
'This is an historic ruling,' Cole said. 'This case makes clear that the government cannot deny someone citizenship simply based on activity protected by the First Amendment.'
Van Der Hout added: 'We hope the government will not waste even more resources in appealing this important decision. This misguided prosecution has gone on long enough and it's time it ended.'
The government must now issue Barakat citizenship documents.
'We hope the government will take this opportunity to reassess the cases of the other seven people in the L.A. 8 and grant them citizenship as well,' Sobel said.
Barakat lives with his two children in Southern California and works as a contractor.
'Aiad Barakat did nothing more than attend social gatherings and distribute a Palestinian magazine in the mid-1980s, yet the government forced a federal trial to determine whether this father who has lived in L.A. for 20 years, could finally become a citizen and fully participate in our society,' Arulanatham said. 'The answer from the Court today was a big win for Aiad and everyone who supports freedom of speech.'