The mass deportation effort comes on the heels of a deal earlier this year between the Trump administration and the Iraqi government. Iraq, seeking removal from President Trump’s then-travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, agreed to start accepting deportees without travel documents — a move that U.S. immigration authorities say has facilitated their efforts to remove a “backlog” of people the United States wanted to deport because they committed crimes at some point.
Acting on that arrangement, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) earlier this month arrested scores of Iraqis across the country, setting off protests in Iraqi immigrant communities, particularly among Detroit’s large Chaldean Christian population.
Goldsmith, a federal judge in Detroit, moved last week to grant a request by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to halt the deportation of 114 Iraqis swept up in the Detroit metropolitan area, many of them Chaldeans. His decision Monday expands the stay to include all Iraqis with final orders of removal nationwide, allowing individuals an additional two weeks to file requests to reopen their cases in immigration court.
The ACLU said it had requested the court’s action on behalf of “all Iraqi nationals in the United States with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE as a result of Iraq’s recent decision to issue travel documents to facilitate U.S. removal.”
At the crux of the immigration attorneys’ argument is the assertion that Iraq is too dangerous — more dangerous than it was when the government first ordered the Iraqis’ deportations — and that serious safety concerns entitle them to an opportunity to reopen their claims for asylum or protection under the Convention Against Torture, due to changed country circumstances.
“At its core, this case is about process, that the government shouldn’t be rushing people back before they have a chance to raise claims,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case in federal court.
On Monday, the Supreme Court allowed a limited version of Trump’s ban on travelers from six mostly Muslim countries — not including Iraq — to take effect, saying the government may not bar those with a “bona fide” connection to the United States, such as having a job or family members here.
The ACLU is now rushing to find attorneys for all of the Iraqis in the case, but Gelernt said the standard two-week stay is too little time. He is hopeful that the judge will next grant a preliminary injunction, effectively delaying the deportations indefinitely until the individuals have had the opportunity to raise their claims in immigration court.
The judge also will evaluate whether the court has the jurisdiction to examine the Iraqis’ claims itself. But immigration attorneys say that’s unlikely.
Many Americans support the deportations of unauthorized immigrants who have committed crimes, and ICE has pointed out that the would-be deportees include men who were convicted of violent assault, drug charges and other serious crimes. But, Goldsmith wrote, these Iraqis face “grave consequences” that establish “irreparable harm.”
“Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately,” Goldsmith wrote.
Iraq has been embroiled in conflict for decades. Many of those facing deportation fled the abuses of Saddam Hussein’s regime in the 1980s and 1990s, their parents and siblings going on to become American citizens while their own legal status was revoked for their involvement in a crime — often for a drug-related offense committed as a young person.
The 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq plunged the country into a new round of brutal war that recently entered its 15th year, and has led to the displacement of millions of people. The country’s Christian minority largely has been decimated over the years of conflict, and the Islamic State extremist group seized a vast swath of the country in 2014 and has waged a campaign to exterminate its enemies. Last year, the Obama administration declared the Islamic State’s attacks on Shiite Muslims, Christians and other groups a “genocide.”
The Detroit area’s Iraqi Christians voted heavily for Trump in the presidential election, community leaders say. Local Chaldean churches endorsed the Republican candidate to their congregations, and Christians said they took faith in Trump’s promises to favor Christian refugees from the Middle East, and to strike hard against the Islamic State.
The recent sweep of arrests has soured that mood. But local immigration attorneys and Iraqi community leaders in the Detroit area celebrated the court’s decision.
“We just hit Mr. Trump back pretty hard,” said Wisam Naoum, a Detroit attorney and Chaldean community leader. Now, the rush to find lawyers and file individual court motions is “a rush against time,” he said.
Naoum and other advocates are urging families to maintain realistic, guarded expectations. These orders buy them only two more weeks of time. Families still need to seek out individual attorneys to challenge their deportations.
“It’s been a rush against time,” Naoum said.
Several of the removal orders involving Iraqi nationals were issued decades ago, and the government generally would release them under orders of supervision with requirements to check in regularly with ICE and comply with other conditions.
But all that changed on June 11 — a Sunday — when immigration officials arrested a large number of Iraqis in the Detroit area. Most were Chaldean Christians in Sterling Heights, Mich., who were spending the day with their families at churches, at restaurants and in their homes. One man was walking into his daughter’s baptism when ICE arrested him.
“It was a blow to the gut,” Naoum said. “This community was brought to its knees.”
But not only Iraqi Christians are impacted by the immigration push. In communities across the country — in Nashville, San Diego, Las Vegas and other cities — Shiite Muslims, ethnic Kurds and Yazidis are also being rounded up by ICE.
“This is a community that galvanized itself to do everything in its power to fight ISIS, to send resources back to our community in Iraq to fight ISIS,” Naoum said, using another name for the Islamic State. “To find ourselves in 2017 still in that fight and having to turn around and fight off the Trump administration at the same time … talk about deplorable.”
This post has been updated.
More from Morning Mix