Posted on June 23, 2017

Judge Halts Deportation of More Than 100 Iraqi Christians

Amanda Holpuch, The Guardian, June 23, 2017

A federal district judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the deportation of more than 100 Iraqi Christians who attorneys said would face death or persecution if returned to their birth country.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested 114 Iraqis, mostly Chaldean Christians, during a series of raids this month in and around Detroit.

Those arrested had been subject to deportation orders and had criminal convictions or pending criminal charges. But attorneys challenged whether it was fair to return this population to Iraq, where Islamic State and other jihadist groups have targeted Chaldeans and other Christian groups.

In a class action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the local ICE field office, attorneys said most of the 114 people had lived in the US for decades and “now face imminent removal to Iraq, and the very real probability of persecution, torture or death”.

Judge Mark Goldsmith said in an order on Thursday that those arrested would not be deported for at least two weeks. At the end of that period, he would make a new ruling.

The judge’s order applies to “all Iraqi nationals within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE field office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE, including those detained in Michigan and transferred outside of Michigan to other detention locations”.

Most of the people arrested were ordered removed several years ago because of criminal convictions or for overstaying their visas, but the government had released them under orders of supervision that required them to check-in regularly with ICE. They had not been prioritized for deportation under past presidential administrations.

The lawsuit described defendants who had built lives in the US, including Atheer Ali, 40, who entered the US as a child.

Ali, the father of a 12-year-old girl, has been subject of an order of removal since 2004. He had a felony conviction for breaking and entering in 1996 and two marijuana charges from 2009 and 2014, but had never been sentenced to prison.

“Mr Ali fears removal to Iraq, especially because his visible status as a Christian, he will be a target for violence and persecution,” the lawsuit said. “In addition, he shares the same name as his father, a former general in the Iraqi Army, and fears targeting as a member of his father’s family.”

Another petitioner was a Shiite Muslim, Sami Ismael Al-Issawi, who also feared persecution because of his religion. He has been subject to an order of removal since September 2013, though his wife and three children are all US citizens. He was convicted of aggravated assault in 1998, was given a sentence of less than a year, and has not reoffended, according to the lawsuit.

Attorneys are seeking for the removals to be blocked until those arrested have been provided with a process to determine whether they would be in danger when returned to their birth country.

“The decision to detain and deport these Iraqi Christians is unfathomable, unethical, and un-American,” said Mark Arabo, president of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation (MHF), which provides aid to Iraqi minorities. “This temporary stay is a sign of hope for our Iraqi Christian community that has been plagued by injustice at the hands of President Trump”.

Previously, Iraq did not provide travel documents to people the US was attempting to deport, but a new policy was negotiated in March after Trump issued a travel ban for seven Muslim-majority countries including Iraq.

That ban was struck down by a federal court and the revised ban, which does not include Iraq, is also subject to a legal challenge.

Raids also took place this month in Nashville, where members of the Iraqi Kurdish community said ICE agents went door-to-door questioning people after arresting people with removal orders.