Lack of lawyer access cited in bid to halt deportations

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit — For weeks, Constantin Jalal Markos has been housed in several detention facilities after he was arrested by federal immigration officials and faces deportation to Iraq, but hasn’t spoken yet to an attorney.

The Metro Detroit man came to Michigan in 1981 as a baby with his family, refugees from Greece, and always thought he was a U.S. citizen. He learned 15 years ago that he was considered an Iraqi national as he was fighting deportation — for a marijuana conviction — because his parent was born there even though he was born in Greece, court documents show.

In May, he was arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement when he reported to officials that he had moved to a new address. He was detained initially in Monroe, then in Youngstown, Ohio, then in Louisiana. Now, he is in Florence, Arizona, 2,000 miles away from Detroit, about a 30-hour drive.

“About one week after I was initially detained in May 2017, I spoke with my mother by phone and she told me that she had found an immigration lawyer for me in Michigan,” said Marcos, who is married and has two daughters, ages 10 and 15. “I am not yet sure what my attorney has done in my immigration case, and I haven’t yet had the opportunity to speak with him.”

Marcos’ plight is part of new motions filed Monday seeking a court order to halt deportation of Iraqi nationals to Iraq.

At the heart of the motions: Nearly 40 percent facing removal to Iraq have no legal representation one month after their arrests and many are detained hundreds of miles from home.

The motions, filed in U.S. District Court in Detroit, where Judge Mark Goldsmith is hearing the case, seek a preliminary injunction to halt deportations in a class action so detainees have more time to seek protection. The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan is leading the effort.

A temporary stay is in place but expires Monday for the more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals across the country, including 114 who were arrested in Metro Detroit last month and another 85 across the country.

It was the largest roundup of Iraqi nationals in recent years after an agreement was reached 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.

But activists and attorneys working to stop the deportations say they may face of Chaldean Christians because of persecution in Iraq.

More than two dozen attorneys and organizations were assembled within 48 hours of the arrests, and they say they’ll work for free for those facing removal, according to documents.

Those arrested locally were taken to detention facilities in Calhoun and St. Clair counties, but most were transferred out of Michigan to Youngstown after their arrests.

“Their transfer to Ohio has made it difficult for even these willing attorneys to communicate with, consult with or aid their clients,” said Nora Youkhana, an attorney with the Fieger Law firm in Southfield in court filings. “Our goal is to file motions to reopen for those who have been apprehended …

“I am concerned that despite the dedication of our legal community, many of the Iraqi detainees who have been picked up will be deported before they get the help they need. Even if the Iraqi detainees were not transferred to Ohio, we would still need additional lawyers to provide representation to the unrepresented.”

A group of bipartisan lawmakers also expressed concern last month that federal immigration officials are denying Michigan detainees fair access by housing them in Ohio.

Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, said in an emailed statement that housing is based on resources. “To accommodate various operational demands, ICE routinely transfers detainees to other detention facilities based on available resources and the needs of the agency,” Walls said.

“As appropriate, ICE coordinates with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which administers the nation’s immigration courts, to ensure the continuity of any ongoing legal proceedings.”

It’s not just Metro Detroiters who are housed far away from home. About a dozen Nashville-based residents who are Kurdish and originate from Iraq were arrested in June, court documents show. They were transferred to the LaSalle Detention Facility in Jena, Louisiana, a 17-hour round-trip drive from Nashville. A few have since been transferred to Florence, Arizona, a 24-hour drive from Nashville.

“ICE’s unannounced, sudden and somewhat unpredictable movements of arrestees — including those who have legal representation — have made harnessing the pro- and low-bono legal resources we have assembled exceedingly difficult,” R. Andrew Free, an attorney based in Nashville, wrote in court documents. “Effectively communicating with a client we cannot locate is nearly impossible.”

Many of the detained Iraqi nationals need more time to seek protection from being sent back to Iraq, according to Russell Abrutyn, an immigration attorney based in Berkley.

“Based on my personal knowledge and experience with several of the Iraqis who were detained by ICE during the last several days, a significant portion of them may have a basis to reopen their removal proceedings to apply for relief based on changed conditions in Iraq or changes in the law that affect their removability or eligibility for relief from removal,” Abrutyn wrote in court documents.

The motions also include several individuals such as Jihan Asker, a 41-year-old Warren woman and Iraqi national who came here when she was 5. She has had an order of removal since she was 10 after her mother didn’t appear in court after seeking asylum, according to her Farmington Hills-based attorney, Albert Valk. Fourteen years ago, Asker pleaded guilty to a 90-day misdemeanor ordinance violation-fraud after she was asked by someone to cash a bad check for $700. After completing probation, the judge issued an order of acquittal and dismissed the case, Valk said.

“No one gets deported for one offense like that,” Valk said.

In June, Asker was arrested within a day of surgery for kidney stones on her right side and now is in extreme pain since the stones are on both kidneys.

“She is just ready to get out,” said her oldest daughter, Leina Solyman of Roseville. “She calls me every day crying. She just keeps calling, asking what is going on with her case. She wants to be out of there. She has done nothing wrong to be there.”

The government is expected to respond this week, and Goldsmith is expected to rule Monday on the preliminary injunction.