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PENNSYLVANIA -- A York County judge halted exclusion hearings for immigrants at a local jail Aug. 31 because the facility's rules excluded the public. The hearings were moved to another location and opened the same day.
After being denied access, eight Pennsylvania newspapers and the Pennsylvania Newspapers Publishers' Association filed suit on August 31 in the Court of Common Pleas in York to enjoin the hearings. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) was reviewing 117 Chinese immigrants' claims for asylum. The immigrants were among 300 brought into New York Harbor on a freighter in early June.
York County Judge John C. Uhler immediately barred further hearings at the jail, prohibiting the county from providing facilities for closed hearings.
The INS moved the hearings to the federal courthouse in Baltimore where U.S. Judge Leonard Shapiro granted two immigrants asylum.
The suit, filed August 31 in the Court of Common Pleas in York by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, the York Daily Record, the York Dispatch, the York Sunday News, the Patriot, the Sunday Patriot- News, the Evening News and the state newspaper association named the warden of the York County Prison, and three York county commissioners as defendants.
Although exclusion hearings are generally closed to the public, they must be opened if the refugee requests, said Dave Morgan, an attorney with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association.
Morgan told the Patriot-News that the INS "specifically sought to have the immigration hearings held in prison facilities to deny press access." INS officials said they did not intend to limit public access or to infringe the due process rights of the immigrants.
Morgan also speculated that holding the proceedings in York as opposed to Manhattan, near New York Harbor where the immigrants landed, was meant to deter national news media attention.
On August 26, Rep. William Goodling (R-Pa.) wrote to U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno informing her of the proceedings and asking for her "immediate attention." A Goodling spokesperson said he was concerned with "overall fairness."
In mid-September, Reno promised to personally deal with a request by the president of the York County Bar Association for new hearings for the detainees, the York Daily Record reported.
(Philadelphia Newspapers v. Hogan; Media Counsel: Dave Morgan, Harrisburg)