Chicago activist gets prison term for immigration crime

Detroit News staff and wire reports

Detroit — A Chicago activist was sentenced to 18 months in prison for failing to disclose her convictions for bombings in Israel when she applied to be a U.S. citizen.

Rasmieh Odeh appeared Thursday in Detroit’s federal court, backed by dozens of supporters. She will remain free while she appeals.

Judge Gershwin Drain said Odeh was a “terrorist” decades ago but has changed her ways. Nonetheless, he said she lied.

“The United States government is entitled to accurate information about people who are asking permission to enter and stay in the country,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade in a statement. “A prior conviction for committing a terrorist bombing is a very significant fact, and failure to disclose this information is a serious fraud against the United States.”

Odeh, 67, helps run Chicago’s Arab American Action Network. In 2004, she answered “no” on her citizenship application when asked about past convictions. She says she believed the questions were about U.S. crimes.

Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market. She said she was tortured into confessing.

“Today’s sentencing and deportation order against the defendant underscores the severe penalties that await those who attempt to defraud the immigration system by hiding derogatory information from their past ,” said Marlon Miller, special agent in charge for HSI Detroit, in a statement. “When individuals are less than truthful on their immigration documents, the system is severely undermined and the security of our nation is put at risk. I applaud the HSI special agents and federal prosecutors who worked tirelessly to resolve this lengthy and complex investigation.”

Ahead of the hearing, a group from 25 states gathered outside of the federal courthouse in support of Odeh.

Hatem Abudayyeh, national spokesman for her defense committee, insists Odeh was being targeted.

“This case is not about immigration as they are making it out be,”Abudayyeh said. “She has never committed a crime and this is a way for the DOJ to chill the Palestinian movement.”

Supporters say Odeh was a productive U.S. citizen for 20 years and dedicated her life for a greater cause, but the government has a history of racial oppression.

“It’s not just us. Since the ’60s and ’70s, they have tried to oppress the black liberation movement, Puerto Rican movement in Chicago and immigration,” Abudayyeh said. “Rasmieh is trying to make a positive impact to bring about change, but the government doesn’t want that.”

Abudayyeh said they hope to appeal Odeh’s prison time.

“The world needs to know that she a selfless individual fighting for change,” Abudayyeh said.

Odeh is an outspoken supporter of Palestinians in Israel. A fundraiser was held for her Wednesday in Dearborn.

Detroit News Staff Writer Kyla Smith and the Associated Press contributed.