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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

American citizen facing deportation asks appellate court to vacate conspiracy conviction

Abderrahmane Farhane told the Second Circuit Wednesday that his attorney failed to inform him that a guilty plea could result in denaturalization or deportation.

MANHATTAN (CN) — In a lengthy two-hour long session, a loaded panel of Second Circuit judges considered arguments Wednesday from a Moroccan-born naturalized U.S. citizen that his lawyer failed to warn him a conviction in connection with terrorism charges carried denaturalization and deportation risks.

Abdulrahman Farhane pleaded guilty in 2006 to conspiracy to launder money and lying to federal agents in connection with a federal terrorism sting following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Farhane’s family has maintained that his persecution was tied to an unjust rounding up of Muslims following the attacks, but the Brooklyn resident served 11 years in prison nonetheless before securing an early release in 2017.

Shortly after, he received a letter from the Justice Department that informed him the U.S. government planned to revoke his American citizenship.

In front of a Second Circuit panel Wednesday, Farhane argued that his former attorney Michael Hueston provided him with ineffective counsel after failing to inform him that denaturalization and deportation was a risk if he pleaded guilty. Specifically, Farhane says that Hueston should have informed him there would be a risk of deportation because he was not yet a U.S. citizen in 2001, when prosecutors claim the crime occurred.

Hueston declined a request for comment from Courthouse News.

“A competent defense lawyer in 2006 representing a client he knows to be a naturalized U.S. citizen who’s facing serious charges stemming from years old conduct should, at a constitutional minimum, alert his client to the possibility that pleading guilty to pre-naturalization conduct could lead to deportation,” Ramzi Kassem, Farhane’s current attorney, said Wednesday.

Kassem, an attorney with Main Street Legal services, argued that the court should vacate Farhane’s guilty plea and conviction as a result.

But U.S. Circuit Judge Steven Menashi, a Donald Trump appointee, said that conviction is not necessary for the federal government to pursue a denaturalization action and it could do so regardless of if the panel vacates Farhane’s conviction or not.

“We could vacate Mr. Farhane’s conviction, and the government could still pursue the denaturalization by introducing all the evidence that he committed the crime and therefore had bad moral character or misrepresented something willfully in the immigration proceeding,” Menashi said.

But despite Kassem’s response that the denaturalization action commenced automatically because of Farhane’s conviction, Menashi did not seem convinced.

“Didn’t it take the government 12 years to bring the denaturalization proceeding and they didn’t bring it until after he was released from prison?” Menashi asked. “It seems like they decided to do it much later on.”

Kassem maintained that even though immigration policy often undergoes a lengthy process, an attorney is still required to warn its client about potential risks including deportation that could arise down the line.

“Because immigration law is complicated, sometimes the causal chain may be longer, more complex, more obscure,” Kassem said. “And in those circumstances, trial counsel must still say something.”

On top of vacating Farhane’s conviction, Kassem also said that a remedy would be invoking a new rule for trial attorneys to ask their clients what year they became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

“That would have given trial counsel all the information they needed to figure out they were advising Mr. Farhane to plead guilty to conduct that was alleged to have occurred when he was still a non-citizen,” Kassem said.

But assistant U.S. attorney Karl Metzner said Wednesday that Farhane’s attorney was not required to inform him of the potential immigration consequences because denaturalization and deportation was not a “direct consequence of the plea.”

“The possibility of denaturalization was present before or after the guilty plea,” Metzner said. “It was the conduct that led to the risk of denaturalization, not the guilty plea.”

Menashi then asked if Farhane could still face a denaturalization proceeding if he had not been convicted.

“If he had gone to trial and been acquitted, could the government still have brought the denaturalization proceeding?” Menashi asked.

For Metzner, the answer is yes.

U.S. Circuit Judge Susan L. Carney, a Barack Obama appointee, asked Kassem if Farhane had any concern that his citizenship might have been taken away if he pleaded guilty.

“Isn’t it the case Mr. Farhane had no reason and many people who are naturalized citizens think it’s permanent and it can’t be undone,” Carney said.

Kassem agreed and added that he had no idea at the time of potential consequences that could arise from a guilty plea.

“Mr. Farhane is a layperson. There was not way for him to know what the consequences might be of a plea,” Kassem said.

The packed panel also included U.S. Circuit Judge John Walker, a George H.W. Bush appointee; U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Wesley, a George W. Bush appointee; U.S. Circuit Judge Richard J. Sullivan, U.S. Circuit Judge Michael H. Park, and U.S. Circuit Judge William J. Nardini, Donald Trump appointees; U.S. Circuit Judge Eunice Lee, U.S. Circuit Judge Beth Robinson, U.S. Circuit Judge Myrna Perez, U.S. Circuit Judge Alison J. Nathan, U.S. Circuit Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam, and U.S. Circuit Judge Maria Araujo Kahn, Joe Biden appointees.

Neither party’s attorneys responded to a request for comment.

Follow @NikaSchoonover
Categories / Appeals, Courts, Immigration

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