People crowd the street in front of the federal courthouse to protest the arrest of more than 100 Chaldean immigrants last week. David Guralnick, The Detroit News


Detroit — A federal judge is weighing a request to grant a temporary stay to more than 100 Iraqi immigrants set to be deported.

The immigrants were arrested earlier this month in Metro Detroit and are being held in detention centers in Ohio, Louisiana and Arizona, attorneys say.

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Attorney Margo Schlanger said in court Wednesday that they are at risk of being tortured or persecuted if sent to Iraq.

She argued that the U.S. government is obligated to protect immigrants from imminent danger in other countries.

“Iraq has gotten extraordinarily dangerous in recent years with the rise of ISIS,” Schlanger said, adding that many of the immigrants will become a “bulls-eye” for torture because they are Christian.

The temporary stays would allow the immigrants to file motions to reopen their removal orders and seek stays of removal from immigration court, according to a petition filed by several Iraqi nationals.

Schlanger said it’s been challenging for some immigrants to get legal assistance because they are being held out of state.

Law enforcement officials say they arrested 114 Iraqi immigrants the weekend of June 9-10 after an agreement between the United States and Iraq that said Iraq would accept deportees for the first time in seven years.

Immigration officials say those targeted in the raids committed crimes, some as serious as murder and rape, and that they have forfeited their right to remain in the U.S.

Jennifer Newby of the U.S. Attorneys Office said Wednesday that federal court does not have jurisdiction to hear claims that challenge the final orders of removal or deportation.

“It is the immigration court that decides whether they get a stay,” Newby said.

Newby also argued that the petitioners have always had the right to seek relief from their removal orders based on the changing conditions in Iraq.

“They sat on their rights,” Newby said, “It’s not the government who created the compressed time frame, it’s the petitioners.”

Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not expect to deport anyone before June 27, Newby said.

But American Civil Liberties attorney Lee Gelernt said he fears the immigrants won't be able to pursue motions or reopen removal orders once they get to Iraq.

"If stays are being routinely granted, it's not clear to us why ICE is insisting on removing these people," Gelernt said. "People have been here for decades; they didn’t know Iraq would take them back."

Hundreds of family members and supporters of the detained immigrants demonstrated outside the federal courthouse before the hearing, chanting “U-S-A” and “Let them go.”

Many wore black, carried red, wooden crosses and American flags, and held up posters with photos of family members.

Lilly Butris, the daughter of an Iraqi immigrant set to be deported, said it’s unfair that the government is allowed to separate her family. Lilly, 12, said she witnessed police entering her home and putting her dad in handcuffs.

“Being ripped away from everything you’ve ever known is not OK,” Lilly said before the crowd. “This country is going to fall apart without us (immigrants).”

Nawal Reyes, 53, was at the rally with her husband, Basil, to support her brother-in-law. Her brother-in-law was arrested in 1991 and released in 1997.

“He paid his dues,” she said. “He’s been working so hard, not depending on the government, no Medicaid. He just bought a nice house.”

He was making breakfast for his two sets of twins, who are 6 and 7 years old, when he was arrested, Reyes said.

“He hadn’t done anything wrong. He has done everything for his kids,” Reyes said. “He knows no Chaldean. He doesn’t know anything about Arabic.”

Mirvet Bahoura said if her uncle gets deported, she will no longer have a bone marrow donor. He was a 100-percent match for two bone marrow transplants after her body rejected previous attempts, Bahoura said.

“If I need my uncle for a third transplant and he’s not here, I’ll likely die,” Bahoura said.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith said he understands the urgency of the case and said a decision will be forthcoming.

Detroit News Staff Writers Sarah Rahal and Joanna Kroeker contributed to this report. 

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