Iraqis get two-week reprieve in deportation fight

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal judge has granted a temporary stay to more than 100 Iraqi immigrants slated for deportation.

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

In his ruling Thursday that granted a two-week stay to 114 detained Iraqi immigrants U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit cited their lawyers’ claim that the immigrants were at risk of being tortured or persecuted if sent to Iraq.

“Irreparable harm is made out by the significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution that Petitioners have substantiated,” he wrote. “Such harm far outweighs any conceivable interest the Government might have in the immediate enforcement of the removal orders, before this Court can clarify whether it has jurisdiction to grant relief to Petitioners on the merits of their claims.”

The temporary stays allow the immigrants to file motions to reopen their removal orders and seek stays of removal from immigration court.

Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said Thursday: “We understand and respect the court’s ruling and we will abide accordingly.”

He added that his office “will analyze the court’s decision and decide whether an appeal is something we wish to pursue.”

ICE officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.

The temporary stay was welcomed by the immigrants’ families.

“If they send him back, all they’re doing is sending him back to a death wish,” said Marten Mansor, whose brother was arrested June 11 in Sterling Heights while with relatives. “Two weeks could lead on to two more weeks, hopefully.”

Before the Wednesday hearing, hundreds of relatives and supporters of the detained immigrants demonstrated outside the federal courthouse in Detroit, calling for the the release of their family members.

Thursday’s ruling also heartened those fighting on behalf of the immigrants.

“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, who argued the case.

“They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

Law enforcement officials said 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.

U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, D-Royal Oak, who joined a rally against the deportations last week at the federal courthouse in Detroit, said the ruling will allow time for review.

“The decision provides a necessary pause and review before sending over 100 people to immense danger or loss of life as acknowledged by the judge,” he said in a statement Thursday night.

Levin said last week that he was seeking a copy of the agreement between the U.S. government and Iraq, as well as measures to confirm the detainees’ safety.

Attorney Margo Schlanger had argued Wednesday before Goldsmith that the U.S. government was obligated to protect immigrants from imminent danger in other countries.

The stay “is a real victory,” she said. “It gives them time to file the things that they need to get the cases in front of the immigration court and get them heard so that all of the detainees can explain why changed country conditions would mean it’s unsafe for them to be sent to Iraq.”