Palestinian activist pleads guilty to immigration crime

Candice Williams
The Detroit News

A Chicago activist pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal court in Detroit to concealing decades-old convictions for bombings in Israel when she obtained United States citizenship.

Rasmea Odeh, 69, will be deported to Jordan or another country in the months ahead. Supporters traveled to Detroit from Chicago to pack the courtroom, and many were in tears later on the courthouse steps.

Odeh was convicted at trial in 2014 of lying to get U.S. citizenship and sentenced to 18 months in prison, but the verdict was overturned. A second trial was planned in Detroit, the city where she went through the citizenship process in 2004, before she decided to accept a plea deal.

Rasmea Odeh, outside the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit on Tuesday, agreed to be deported but avoided jail time for failing to disclose her conviction for bombings in Israel in the late 1960s.

During her court appearance Tuesday before Judge Gershwin A. Drain, Odeh was unable to say she was guilty. She instead made repeated references to signing the plea agreement.

After she was repeatedly asked by Drain if she was guilty, he eventually accepted her reply that her admittance of the crime was in the court document.

“I signed this,” Odeh said.

In exchange for her guilty plea, Odeh will avoid prison time. But Odeh, who had been stripped of citizenship, will be deported following her sentencing on Aug. 17.

Odeh spent 10 years in prison after she was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969. One of the bombings killed two people at a supermarket. She had been sentenced to life in prison, but was released in 1979 in a prisoner exchange with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

In 2004, Odeh answered “no” when asked about any criminal record on a U.S. citizenship application in Detroit, according to the United States Attorney’s Office. She had obtained a United States immigrant visa in 1994.

As part of the plea agreement, Odeh admitted that she lied about her criminal history and omitted her Israeli arrest, charge, conviction and imprisonment. If she had revealed her criminal history, she never would have been granted an immigrant visa or been admitted into the United States, officials said.

“The United States will never be a safe haven for individuals seeking to distance themselves from their pasts,” said Steve Francis, special agent in charge for Homeland Security Investigations Detroit, in a statement. “When individuals lie on immigration documents, the system is severely undermined and the security of our nation is put at risk.”

In her defense, Odeh has said that she was tortured in prison and suffered from post traumatic stress disorder at the time of her interview in Detroit.

Among the supporters from the Chicago area outside the federal courthouse Tuesday was Hatem Abudayyeh, 46, who worked alongside Odeh at the Arab American Action Network in Chicago where she serves as associate director.

“It is going to take a dozen people to replace her,” he said. “This is a huge loss for our work.”

Dan Culter of Ann Arbor came to the court Tuesday in support for the two men killed in the 1969 bombing.

Culter said he believes Odeh is guilty. He held a sign that read “Justice 4 Rasmea’s murdered victims.”

“There are people who remember the bombing,” Culter said. “I don’t care what happens to her. I’m here for the family.”

(313) 222-2311