ACLU asks federal judge for release of Iraqi detainees

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Ashourina Slewo, right, of Madison Heights, holds the bull horn for Linda Markos, of Warren, as they protest in front of Detroit's federal courthouse Wednesday. Slewo's Iraqi-born father, Warda Slewo, was recently released on bond after being detained for nine months. Markos' son, Constantin Markos, has been detained for 1.5 years.

Detroit — Civil liberties attorneys petitioned a federal judge Wednesday, saying "the time has come for the release or removal" of Iraqi nationals who have been imprisoned for 16 months.

A petition, filed in August after months of requests for the release of 106 Iraqi detainees, who they say have been unjustly held by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement since a raid in June 2017. More than 1400 Iraqi nationals initially were swept up for detention last summer.

Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said ICE misled the court into keeping the Iraqi nationals detained by saying that Iraq is accepting detainees if they are deported, thereby allowing the U.S. to hold them in detention until their departure. ICE officers have also told detainees to sign documents stating they want to be wanted to be sent back to Iraq or face further prosecution in the U.S., Aukerman said.

A hearing was held a day after U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered ICE to unseal documents "that show ICE’s prior statements to the court were false," Aukerman said.

"We are delighted that the detainees, their families and the public, all of whom deserve to know the truth, will finally be able to learn what is really happening in this case," Aukerman said. "Now everyone can see the evidence for themselves. And what that evidence shows is that ICE provided false information to the court in order to keep these Iraqis locked up, separated from the families, for the past 16 months."

Simon Owshana of Detroit, holds up a red cross as he and others protest in front of the federal courthouse Wednesday.  Owshana was released on a personal bond after being detained for 14 months for possessing 20 grams of marijuana. He has  lived in the U.S. for 20 years and has a court hearing on November 29.

ACLU attorneys filed requests for sanctions against ICE for submitting what they described as false statements to the court. ICE attorneys said there is an agreement with Iraq in place to repatriate the detainees after the country was removed from the travel ban, the detainees just need proper travel itineraries. 

"There are 72 class members that have been issued travel documents, 22 have since been removed to Iraq, and Iraq issued travel documents to 15 who refused to sign the document to go voluntarily," said Joseph Darrow, attorney for ICE's Washington, D.C., bureau. 

The ACLU is trying to prevent their deportation, saying many of the detainees face torture or death if deported to Iraq for their Christian faith and some for serving in the U.S. military.

Darrow argued if petitioners were to be released, they are a flight risk and may fail to abide by laws. He couldn't answer Goldsmith's question about how long it would take to get people back to Iraq. He said they have a plane scheduled to leave by the end of November. 

William Silvis, assistant director of ICE's office of immigration litigation, said  ACLU attorneys did not prove ICE's statements were "intentional or reckless."

The "statements were truthful," he said. "If they were inaccurate, it was not intentional." 

The Iraqi immigrants with criminal records who had orders of deportation were swept up in the raid last summer after Donald Trump became president and toughened immigration policies.

Lawsuit filed in June 2017

The hearing is the latest development a class-action lawsuit, Hamama v. Adducci, which the ACLU filed in June 2017 to halt federal immigration officials from deporting more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals arrested in the ICE raids. More than 100 detainees were from Metro Detroit.

The court issued a preliminary injunction in July 2017 to allow detainees to remain in the country; a second injunction was issued in January, holding that those "subject to prolonged detention are entitled to a bond hearing ... unless the government proffered individualized evidence that a detainee should not receive a hearing."

The ACLU originally requested their release in November 2017, and Goldsmith issued a decision in January, saying he needed further information.

"We've been fighting for every scratch of paper they have, delayed, denied and deceived all the way through," Aukerman said. "They basically bought the incarceration for these detainees the last 10 months and that secret information will now be made public."

The courtroom Wednesday was filled with family members and some formerly detained Iraqi nationals who were released on bond. 

"I keep coming because it's important, and we have to do what's right," said Andrew Yousif, 29, who was detained after being picked up at his home in Clinton Township. "It's been too long and I've been home, but it never leaves the back of your head."

If Goldsmith approves the petition for the release of the remaining detainees and the person loses their immigration case, the government can fight for deportation individually in each case, Aukerman said. 

"But the government can not lock people up and throw away the key," she said. 

Ashourina Slewo's father was released in March from the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center but she continues to protest for others' release. She joined about 20 other protesters with Code Legal Aid and the ACLU as they demonstrated outside the courthouse during the hearing.

Slewo led a chant, saying, "ICE, ICE, open your eyes, deportation is homicide." 

"I rally and I chant because members of my community, fathers, brothers, uncles, continue to be detained," said Slewo of Madison Heights. "I chant because we're still living in a world where people are unconstitutionally detained. My community continues to need support and I will always be there to do so."

Ashourina Slewo, second from right, of Madison Heights, yells into her bull horn as she leads protesters in front of Detroit's federal courthouse Wednesday morning. Her Iraqi-born father, Warda Slewo, was recently released on bond after being detained for nine months.