Two Chicago organizations filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday asking the federal government to release a Pakistani immigrant who they say has been wrongly held for 2 1/2 years because the government mislabeled him a terrorist.
Mohammad Azam Hussain, who is being held in a Dodge County jail, was convicted in June 2005 of falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen and lying about a number of matters on an application for citizenship. He has been held since September 2004.
Among other things, the former chef and cab driver omitted mention of his one-time membership in a Pakistani group known as Mohajir Quami Movement-Haqiqi.
Prosecutors say the group has been involved in murders and kidnappings. Defense attorneys say Hussain belonged to the group when it was nonviolent and quit when it turned to violence.
Immigration officials started a deportation case against him based on the criminal case.
Records show some evidence left out
But the conviction was overturned after the government admitted it had evidence it didn't disclose to the defense during Hussain's trial, according to federal court records.
The suit was filed by Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and the University of Chicago Mandel Legal Aid Clinic in the Eastern District of Wisconsin. It names Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as a respondent, among others, and asks the federal courts to assume jurisdiction in the matter or release Hussain from custody. The lawsuit says his detention violates his right to be free of excessive and punitive detention.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said the agency hasn't seen the suit and could not comment.
An immigration judge hasn't made a decision on his case, even though a hearing was completed in April 2006, according to the foundation. A judge set bond in February 2007, but immigration appealed Hussain's release, claiming he might be a terrorist. No terrorist charges have been filed against him, and Geoffrey Heeren, one of Hussain's lawyers, said the allegations have no merit.
"It was extraordinary for the government to admit they failed to disclose evidence, and it's extraordinary for them to pursue the immigration case, to invest all that time and money in a criminal proceeding and then just given up on it," said Heeren, who works for the foundation.
Heeren said the events have taken an enormous toll on Hussain, who has a green card, as well as his American wife and 6-year-old daughter in Des Plaines, Ill. Hussain's wife cannot pay their mortgage and faces foreclosure, he said.
"He's losing his teeth," Heeren said. "He's lost a lot of weight. He's struggled with depression and he's lost two years of his daughter's life."