Iraqi detainees end hunger strike

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Some Iraqi detainees, swept up in immigration raids in Metro Detroit this summer, have ended a hunger strike they began earlier this month. 

Detainees sporadically entered the strike at thenortheast Ohio Correctional Center over 12 days, with some going as long as a week without food.

They accepted food on Friday at the Youngstown, Ohio, center after the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement appealed a judge's ruling preventing the deportations on Thursday. 

ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said no one was harmed as result of the strike. 

"No one was admitted for in-patient care. Outside medical services personnel were contacted for one individual who subsequently refused treatment. He was later cleared by medical staff," Walls said. 

Hundreds of protesters listen to speakers during a July rally.  The crowd was protesting the arrest and planned deportation of over 100 immigrants who were rounded up.

As of Sept. 4, 107 Metro Detroiters remained in custody after an estimated 1,400 Iraqi immigrants in the U.S. were targeted by the administration of President Donald Trump for deportation.

Families of detainees, meanwhile, had said the Ohio center was on a 23-hour lockdown on Sept. 15 because of the number of detainees participating in the hunger strike, which they believe had grown to about 50 at one point.

Edward Bajoka, an attorney representing 15 of the Iraqis — four who are detained in Ohio — went to Youngstown and said his clients are "beyond distressed."

"One of my clients was a participant in the hunger strike; he lasted one week," Bajoka said.

"They decided to punish everyone to use pressure on the few hunger strikers, pitting them against one another, to make the hunger striking stop. They put the facility on temporary lockdown. Confining to cells, only allowing one hour a day to shower, use the phone, go outside. When you have 50 guys in a pod, and they are all trying to use the phone, tensions can get high." 

Families of the detainees say they fear they could be persecuted in Iraq because of their Christian faith. Detainees and their families have sought to suspend the deportations so they can further argue in court that sending them to Iraq would be dangerous.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in June and were granted a preliminary injunction on July 24 by U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, halting the deportations until each has their own case in court. 

The injunction called on the government to provide them with their immigration files, 90 days to file a motion for their case and kept them safe until they have exhausted their rights. The government also had 60 days to file a notice to appeal the injunction. 

"They waited until literally the last day," Bajoka said. "Just because the government filed doesn't mean the stay is lifted until the appeal is resolved. The judge basically said they should have at least have a chance in court before you guys send them to their potential death without warning."

Walls declined to comment on the appeal but referred to ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan's statement from July. 

“Once again, this court has failed to acknowledge the generous procedures and safeguards afforded to aliens in the immigration removal process, under which all of these aliens were lawfully ordered removed from the United States,” Homan said.

“It’s even more concerning that the court’s decision overlooks the clear public safety threat posed by these aliens — the vast majority of whom are convicted criminals. The criminal history of these aliens includes convictions for homicide, rape, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, sex assault and many other types of offenses."

However, Bajoka said many of them have minor crimes. 

"One of my clients there never committed a crime, he only overstayed a visa. They are scared they are going to be targeted by extremists in the region, tortured or kidnapped to their death," Bajoka said. "Many have gotten good news from their individual cases so it's giving the detained some hope."

Rana Elmir, deputy director of the ACLU of Michigan, said Goldsmith issued an order on Monday that:

  • Sets a firm schedule for long-awaited documents the Iraqis need to make their cases in immigration court. 
  • Forces the government to notify about anyone on hunger strike within three business days. 
  • Sets up a process designed to prevent officers from coercing detainees into returning to Iraq. 
  • Orders the government to post a notice in detention centers instructing detainees on how to contact ACLU if they are being coerced or harassed by officers.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_