Detroit — The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan on Thursday filed a class-action lawsuit to halt federal immigration officials from deporting more than 100 Iraqi nationals rounded up by federal agents in raids over the weekend.
The group, in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, argues it’s illegal to deport the detainees without giving them an opportunity to prove they could face torture or death if returned to Iraq.
“Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties,” Kary Moss, executive director for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement released Thursday. “We are hoping that the courts will recognize the extreme danger that deportation to Iraq would pose for these individuals. Our immigration policy shouldn’t amount to a death sentence for anyone.”
The ACLU filed the complaint against Immigration and Customs Enforcement after ICE agents arrested more than 100 Iraqis throughout metropolitan Detroit last weekend. Named in the suit is Rebecca Adducci, director of the Detroit District of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The group is seeking a Friday hearing for the detainees in U.S. District Court in Detroit.
The ACLU also filed a motion Thursday asking the court for a restraining order or stay of the removal of the individuals in custody until it’s determined whether they are entitled to protection.
The motion notes the U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed to attorneys that deportation would not take place Thursday or Friday, but “the government has been unwilling to rule out deportation as early as Saturday, June 17.”
Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community is the largest in the U.S. and those arrested were part of a federal roundup that was one of the biggest in years.
Most arrested in Michigan are Chaldean Christians. However, Shiite Muslims and Christian converts are also among the detained, the ACLU notes.
Most are being held at a detention facility in Youngstown, Ohio. Some others were sent to facilities in St. Clair and Calhoun counties in Michigan.
In reference to the lawsuit, Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for ICE, said it does not comment on pending litigation.
Earlier this week, federal immigration authorities defended the arrests, saying that all of those rounded up had been convicted of crimes and were subject to deportation.
Walls, in an update released by ICE Wednesday, said immigration officers arrested 114 Iraqi nationals in Detroit over the weekend and 85 around the rest of the country over the past several weeks.
As of April 17, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders for removal.
Among those in custody is 38-year-old Ali Al-Dilami, one of a handful of plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit and a Shiite Muslim, who came to the United States in 1998 as a 19-year-old refugee.
Al-Dilami was convicted of assault 17 years ago and sentenced to one year in prison, of which he served five months, the filing states. He has not reoffended since and the conviction was later expunged, it says.
He resides in Ohio with his wife and two children. ICE released him to the community under an order of supervision and he’s fully complied, according to the suit. Nevertheless, ICE agents arrested him at his home on June 11, the ACLU wrote.
Al-Dilami, who has had three mild heart attacks in the past, according to his family, suffered a seizure when he was arrested and is now paralyzed on the left side of his body. After being stabilized, Al-Dilami was transferred to the Youngstown detention center.
He fears that, if returned to Iraq, he will face oppression and reprisals because of the arbitrary and indiscriminate targeting of Shiite Muslims by ISIS, the suit says.
Also detained is plaintiff Jihan Asker, 41, a Chaldean mother of three who arrived in the United States at age 5 and has spent much of her life near Warren.
Since being arrested on a non-violent misdemeanor charge 14 years ago, Asker has complied fully with her order of supervision and encountered no other legal troubles, the ACLU said.
Although she has been subject to a final order of removal to Iraq since 1986, she was released on an order of supervision and has been living in the community, complying with this order, the lawsuit says.
However, on June 11, she too was arrested and taken to the Calhoun County detention center. Asker fears being returned to Iraq because she worries her status as a Christian makes her a target for violence and persecution.
“Petitioners, Christian and Muslim alike, cannot be removed to Iraq without being afforded a process to determine whether, based on current conditions and circumstances, the danger they would face entitles them to protection from removal,” the filing says.
In addition to attorneys from the ACLU of Michigan and the national ACLU, the class-action suit is being litigated by the law firm Miller Canfield, Michigan law professor Margo Schlanger, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center and other ACLU cooperating attorneys.