- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 13, 2002

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The federal government can keep secret the names of post-September 11 detainees held in New Jersey, a state appeals court said yesterday in ruling that the head of the Immigration and Naturalization Service has broad powers to prevent release of the information.

The ruling was a setback to immigration and civil rights advocates, who have been seeking the names of detainees held in New Jersey county jails since last fall in an attempt to monitor their treatment and ensure they have adequate representation.

The U.S. Justice Department argues that releasing the detainees' names could help terrorist organizations by letting them know which of their operatives are or aren't in custody.

According to the most recent Justice Department figures, 104 detainees remain in custody nationwide, the majority in New Jersey county jails.

The three-judge panel ruled that INS Commissioner James Ziglar has the right to administer immigration matters and that some detainees might not want their names to be made public. The panel ruled that releasing the information could jeopardize the safety of the detainees and their families and might also hurt criminal investigations.

INS spokesman Russ Bergeron referred inquiries to the Justice Department, whose spokesman, Dan Nelson, did not immediately return a call seeking comment yesterday.

The New Jersey chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sued Passaic and Hudson counties in January, saying the names of people arrested in New Jersey are public information under the state's right-to-know law.

A series of court rulings has supported that stance, rejecting claims that the release of the names could hurt national security.

The plaintiffs plan to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

"It's very inconsistent with other decisions concerning government secrecy since September 11 which have courageously recognized that open government is essential to the success of democracy," said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the Newark chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The ACLU also is suing the federal government in federal court, challenging the practice of routinely closing immigration court hearings involving detainees.

A federal judge ruled earlier this month that closing the hearings was unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge John Bissell refused to limit his order to INS hearings held in New Jersey, extending it to all post-attack detainees.

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