(RNS) Leaders of the nation's Muslim community have asked President Clinton to support a bill that would ban the use of "secret evidence" to detain people who are suspected to have ties to terrorists.

Immigration officials can legally detain an individual without ever filing criminal charges by using secret evidence in deportation proceedings. The suspects are thought to be associates of terrorists or terrorist organizations, and the supporting evidence is shown only to the immigration judge and not to the suspect or his lawyers.

Immigration officials do not have an official count on how many suspects are being held on secret evidence cases. One official put that number at a half dozen or fewer, while Muslim watchdog groups say as many as 25 suspects are sitting in prison, not knowing what they are charged with.

Muslim leaders have said for years that the practice is unconstitutional and unfairly targets people of Middle Eastern heritage. A bill in the House of Representatives would ban secret evidence; so far, 65 members have signed on to the bill.

At an Atlanta reception on April 14, Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations, presented Clinton with a letter urging him to support the Secret Evidence Repeal Act. Clinton said he would consider the request.

According to the letter, "the use of secret evidence undermines our democracy and lessens the international credibility of the United States on the issue of human rights."

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