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Stiff sentence sought for Chicago woman in immigration case

Created: 02/26/2015 1:22 PM WNYT.com
By: By ED WHITE

DETROIT (AP) — Federal prosecutors are recommending at least five years in prison for a Chicago activist who didn't tell immigration officials about her conviction decades ago for bombings in Israel, including one that killed two college students at a supermarket.

In a court filing, the prosecutors argued a "slap on the wrist" for Rasmieh Odeh could encourage others to seek a haven in the United States.

Odeh's sentencing on March 12 in Detroit is shaping up as a clash of conflicting portrayals. Her lawyers said the 67-year-old who runs daily operations at Chicago's Arab American Action Network is a peaceful, selfless individual whose record of service outweighs any need for additional punishment. Dozens of people have written letters on her behalf.

The government, however, said this is no time to go easy on Odeh.

"A light sentence in this case would be a signal to anyone who has fought overseas for ISIS or a similar organization that there is not much risk in coming to the United States, hiding one's past and seeking citizenship," prosecutors Jonathan Tukel and Mark Jebson said in the filing Wednesday.

"If not caught, such a person derives all the benefits of citizenship," they said. "After perhaps 15-20 years of living in the United States, as was defendant Odeh, a person who is simply given a slap on the wrist and then deported is much better off than that person would have been by not having come to the United States in the first place."

Odeh is asking U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain to keep her out of prison, although deportation appears inevitable after losing her citizenship.

"Ms. Odeh is not a terrorist. ... Ms. Odeh is asking this court to sentence her as she is today, 20 years after she came to America to help her family, and in light of the last 10 years in which she has built a life of devoted service to her community," defense attorney Michael Deutsch said in a court filing.

Dozens of supporters who attended her trial are likely to appear for her sentencing too. In November, she was convicted of failing to disclose her 1969 conviction for bombings in Jerusalem when she applied for citizenship in Detroit in 2004. She also made no disclosure when she first entered the U.S. in 1995.

Odeh spent a decade in an Israeli prison for the bombings. But she insists she was tortured into confessing to the crimes.

Her citizenship application asked if she had "EVER" been arrested, charged, convicted or imprisoned. Odeh checked the "no" box, telling jurors last fall that she believed the questions were related only to criminal history in the U.S. Tukel said that explanation was "ridiculous."

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Follow Ed White at http://twitter.com/edwhiteap

(Copyright 2015 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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