IN MAY, Vice President Pence reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to protecting religious minorities in the Middle East. Just over a month later, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials are poised to send nearly 200 Iraqis back to a country where they could face extreme harassment and religious persecution.
After Iraq agreed to accept deportees from the United States in exchange for being dropped from President Trump’s travel ban on seven Muslim-majority countries, ICE said it began to “process the backlog” of Iraqi nationals subject to final orders of removal. In sweeping raids since May, ICE has arrested 114 Iraqis in Michigan and an additional 85 elsewhere in the United States. Many of the detainees have lived in the United States for decades and belong to religious and ethnic minority groups in Iraq, such as the Chaldean Christians and Iraqi Kurds.
This alone should give ICE and the Trump administration pause. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, some of the detainees fled Iraq as refugees, and many could face torture and reprisal if sent back. Iraq is notoriously dangerous for its minorities: A 2016 report by Minority Rights Group International found that many minority groups have been almost entirely eliminated after years of repression, displacement and violence. Even though the Islamic State in Iraq has lost territory, deportation could still be dangerous. Advocates have likened the deportations to a “death sentence.”
The removals not only are morally reprehensible but also run afoul of international law. The U.N. Convention Against Torture , to which the United States is a signatory, prohibits the return of a person to a country where patterns of mass human rights violations provide substantial grounds for believing they may be tortured. The gamut of atrocities committed by the Islamic State and other extremist groups in Iraq should be grounds enough.
When questioned about the arrests, ICE pointed out that most of the detainees have previous criminal convictions. But some of these convictions are more than 20 years old. Others involve minor drug offenses and misdemeanors — hardly the serious crimes listed by ICE in its statements. While the administration is within its rights to remove undocumented immigrants with prior convictions, its willingness to send residents who in some cases have complied with the law for decades to a country where they may face violence shows remarkable callousness.
The potential harm is real enough at least to warrant a case-by-case review. The ACLU of Michigan has filed a class-action lawsuit to halt the deportations until each detainee has the opportunity for a hearing. This is the correct course, both legally and morally. To the administration, it might mean another bureaucratic hurdle, but to the Iraqis at risk of being deported, it could mean the difference between life and death.
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