A former University of South Florida teacher jailed for three years on secret evidence lost a federal appeal of a government decision denying him asylum and ordering that he and his wife be deported.
But the decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Thursday does not bring Mazen Al-Najjar and his wife, Fedaa, any closer the deportation.
Their attorneys say they are stateless Palestinians and no nation will accept them, especially because Al-Najjar has been falsely linked to terrorists.
The appeals court said their attorneys did not present sufficient evidence that they should receive asylum and denied a new hearing in the case.
"It's very much a disappointing decision," said Al-Najjar, 44. "It means the suffering we've experienced will never come to an end. It means I have no rights."
Al-Najjar, who has a doctorate in engineering and denies any terrorist links, said he expects his attorneys to ask for a rehearing before the full 11th Circuit. If he fails there, his attorneys will consider an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Deportation orders would send Al-Najjar to the United Arab Emirates and his wife to Saudi Arabia, their last places of residence before moving to the United States in the 1980s.
But David Cole, a Georgetown University Law professor who is one of several lawyers representing the couple, said neither country will accept them.
"As a practical matter, the decision doesn't mean a lot," Cole said. "Unless the government can find a country to accept them, it can't deport them. It is very likely they will remain in the U.S. in this stateless limbo indefinitely."
Since he was ordered deported in 1997 for overstaying a student visa, Al-Najjar was jailed more than three years as a threat and publicly accused of being an operative for Middle East terrorists.
Al-Najjar was released Dec. 15 when a judge ruled the government failed to give him due process by sharing some of its secret evidence so he could defend himself.
Justice Department attorneys seeking the couple's deportation could not immediately be reached for comment.