Chicago activist gets prison term for immigration crime

DETROIT (AP) — A judge sentenced a Chicago activist to 18 months in federal prison Thursday for failing to disclose her convictions for bombings in Israel when she applied to be a U.S. citizen.

Rasmieh Odeh, 67, also was stripped of her citizenship and eventually will be deported, likely to Jordan. But she will remain free while she appeals the case.

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.

In 2004, she answered “no” on her U.S. citizenship application in Detroit when asked about any past criminal record. Odeh was convicted of two bombings in Jerusalem in 1969, including one that killed two people at a market.

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 “terrorist” or a “bad woman.” She recalled a tumultuous life overseas due to conflicts between Palestinians and Israelis and said it would be “torture” to the many Arabic women she has helped in the Chicago area if she was sent to prison.

U.S. District Judge Gershwin Drain settled on an 18-month sentence, far below the five years recommended by federal prosecutors. He said he believes Odeh was a terrorist but has dramatically turned her life around in the last 20 years in the U.S.

Nonetheless, the judge 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. … In some ways, Ms. Odeh, you don’t have a lot of respect for the law,” Drain said. “If you did, you would have been honest and truthful.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jonathan Tukel said Odeh is seen as an “icon” among terrorists. He said her community 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.”

Defense attorney Michael Deutsch argued that Odeh didn’t deserve a prison term on top of mandatory deportation.

“The sentence is excessive given all the facts in the case but it could have been worse,” he said outside court.

Odeh’s supporters traveled from Chicago to attend the hearing. They marched and chanted outside with Palestinian flags, led by a man with a bullhorn.

“DOJ, let’s be clear, Rasmieh is welcome here,” they said, referring to the Department of Justice.

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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 in Detroit contributed to this report.

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