Chicago activist gets prison for immigration crime

DETROIT (AP) — Calling her a “terrorist” from decades ago who has turned to “good works,” a judge sentenced a Chicago activist on Thursday to 18 months in prison for lying about her convictions for bombings in Israel when she sought U.S. citizenship.

Rasmieh Odeh, 67, also was stripped of her citizenship and will be deported, probably to Jordan. But she will remain free while she appeals the conviction, a process that could take more than a year.

“The offense is serious but it’s not extremely serious,” said U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain.

Odeh helps run Chicago’s Arab American Action Network, an education and social services agency, and more than 100 supporters filled the courtroom or spilled over into another room to watch a video feed of the hearing. Many took a bus or car-pooled from Illinois, then marched and chanted in front of the courthouse while waving Palestinian flags.

Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market. But in 2004, she answered “no” on her U.S. citizenship application in Detroit when asked about any past criminal record. She also didn’t disclose it a decade earlier when she was granted a visa.

She insists that she believed the questions were related to U.S. crimes, although the form said “EVER.”

Speaking to the judge in Arabic and English, Odeh said she’s not a “bad woman.” She said it would be “torture” to many Arabic women whom she has helped in the Chicago area if she was sent to prison.

Drain settled on an 18-month sentence, in the middle of the guidelines but far below the five years recommended by federal prosecutors. A five-year punishment would have been an extraordinary step up from the guidelines.

“Technically she was a terrorist,” the judge said. “But looking at Ms. Odeh’s recent history, I’m convinced she’s really been involved in a lot of good works. … If she was a terrorist, she’s changed. She’s reformed and engaged in positive, constructive activities. That’s a good thing. In fact, that’s a great thing.”

Nonetheless, Drain said the case wasn’t about politics, community service or the Middle East.

“This case is about honesty and being truthful and saying the right thing under oath,” he said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said Odeh is seen as an “icon” among terrorists. He said her work in Chicago was irrelevant.

“Every single day she has been in the United States has been illegal,” Tukel said. “Every single day has been based on fraud.”

Outside court, Odeh wore a big smile, hugged supporters and predicted victory after an appeal. She’ll argue that the judge put too many restrictions on her defense at trial.

Odeh said she was “shocked” to get a prison sentence.

“Many of us do nothing to make this a better place. … She’s taken nothing from this country but given a lot,” defense attorney Michael Deutsch told Drain.

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

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Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub and photographer Paul Sancya contributed to this report.

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