Sean Kelly has been held in a California detention centre for a month while his lawyers argue his case.
Kelly was convicted in 1990 of aiding and abetting the murders of Corporals David Howes and Derek Wood, who were dragged from their car, taken to the GAA’s Casement Park in Belfast, beaten, then driven to waste ground and shot dead by members of the IRA.
The 35-year-old, from Belfast, says he is the victim of a miscarriage of justice.
Following his release in 1999, Kelly emigrated to the US, married an American and became manager of a bar in Los Angeles. He is a father of one.
He was detained on February 25 at Los Angeles International Airport after returning from a visit home to the North.
“The government’s position is that this man was convicted in the aiding and abetting of a brutal crime and that makes him inadmissible to the United States,” said Virginia Rice, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Following hearing next month, a judge will decide whether Kelly is allowed to remain in the US.
If Kelly is found to have committed a crime of ‘moral turpitude’ he could be stripped of his permanent residency and his ability to remain in the US, Ms Rice said.
His wife and friends have set up a fund to pay his legal fees. Friends say Kelly is a mistaken target of US anti-terrorism concerns.
“He’s got himself, a home, a wife, a child, you know, he pays his taxes, he’s been a model citizen,” said Brian Kyle, owner of O’Malley’s on Main, which Kelly managed.
Kelly’s lawyers said he disclosed his convictions fully when he applied for residency in the US. He was granted permanent residency in 2001.
“The US government gave him a green card. It implies that they made a mistake or they believed it was a political conviction,” said lawyer Jim Byrne.
The two corporals were shot dead in March 1988 after they mistakenly drove their unmarked car into the funeral cortege for Kevin Brady, one of three people killed days earlier by loyalist Michael Stone in a gun and grenade attack on mourners at Milltown Cemetery.
Cpls Howes, aged 23, and Wood, aged 24, were pulled from their car by a mob.
Kelly, along with Michael Timmins and Patrick Kane, were convicted of kidnapping, grievous bodily harm and aiding and abetting the murders. Kane’s conviction was later overturned.
The internationally recognised Human Rights Watch says there is evidence the convictions were the result of inadequate or faulty legal procedures, violation of the right to remain silent, reliance upon poor-quality video footage for identification purposes, and confused application of the doctrine of common purpose.