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Metro Detroit Iraqi detainees begin long-awaited trek home

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Mazin Mikho walked through the door of his mother's home in Warren for the first time in nine months Monday. She looked at her daughter and through tears said: “Thank you for bringing him home to me."

Mikho is one of about 100 Iraqi detainees making their way home to Metro Detroit this week after being swept up in immigration raids in 2017. The detainees, including those from around the country, were expected to be home by Thursday, the deadline set by a federal judge. 

"Even though we heard about Judge Goldsmith’s decision, none of us believed they were coming home," said his sister, Vivian Mikho, referring to U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith's ruling Nov. 20 granting the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan's motion calling for the release of detainees.

"They took so long," said Vivian Mikho, who spoke on behalf of her brother, who declined to immediately comment. "When we found out there was a deadline, it helped, but it made every day feel like a lifetime."

Goldsmith granted the motion, saying Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals while Immigration and Customs Enforcement sought to deport the detainees.

"The law is clear that the federal government cannot indefinitely detain foreign nationals while it seeks to repatriate them when there is no significant likelihood of repatriation in the reasonably foreseeable future," Goldsmith ruled in November.

The case brought by the ACLU, Hamama vs. Adducci, sought to end the detention of some 1,400 Iraqis nationally, including 114 initially gathered in Metro Detroit during the raids.

The ACLU argued that if the detainees were repatriated to Iraq, they would face torture or death for their Christian faith or for having served in the U.S. military.

ICE began releasing the detainees on Sunday. The detainees are being put under orders of supervision, requirements vary by detainee, the ACLU said. Six from Metro Detroit who were held in Youngstown, Ohio, were bused to Detroit on Wednesday; two have been released, ACLU officials say. 

A couple of the men held in detention centers around the country are expected to remain in custody while the government continues plans to remove them by the end of January, the ACLU says. 

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said the  releases represent "freedom and family" in time for the holiday. 

"It’s an emotional time for families," Aukerman said. "The release process has been challenging for them as they waited by the phone for news of where and when their loved ones would be released. We have been trying for weeks to get this information so families could prepare."

She said ICE provided some information on the releases Wednesday after the ACLU returned to court to compel ICE to supply the information.

"But families are coming home and that is what matters," Aukerman said.

Nathalie Asher, acting executive associate director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, said that while ICE is following the judge's November ruling, the agency is concerned about releasing "serious convicted criminals."

"While ICE intends to fully comply with the terms of the order, the agency is deeply concerned that it is being forced to release serious convicted criminals, including those whose offenses involve murder, assault with intent to murder a sheriff’s deputy, criminal sexual conduct with a person under 13, assault with a dangerous weapon and other serious offenses," Asher said in a statement Wednesday.

Asher said the men had had bond hearings before immigration judges and "the overwhelming majority" were denied release "because of the danger they pose."

Wendy Richards, a Miller Canfield attorney who helped in the Hamama case, said there may be handfuls of people with criminal convictions, but there are many others who do not have criminal records.

"Many of these people just missed appointments, already served their time or committed minor felonies ... this isn't supposed to be criminal confinement... Thank goodness we live in a country that respects human rights and can get these people home for the holiday with their families."

Vivian Mikho of Warren was on her way to her doctor's appointment Monday when her brother called from the Calhoun County Detention facility in Battle Creek, asking if she could pick him up. 

Mazin Mikho, 45, has lived in the United States since he was 4 years old, and although he does not have his citizenship, "everything about him is American," his sister said. 

"He knows no other country," Vivian Mikho said. "I remember when we were renovating my new house and I thought it was finally done and he looked at me and said, 'It's not finished yet'. He then went to Home Depot, bought the biggest American flag, hung it up for me outside and said, 'Now, it's complete'. " 

Mazin Mikho, who works rehabbing homes and real estate in Warren, was picked up in March when he went for his ICE check-in for a former charge on a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. From there, he was bounced around from St. Clair Jail to Chippewa County Jail in Sault Ste. Marie to the Calhoun County Detention Center in Battle Creek. Vivian Mikho said it pained her to hear her brother call home saying he only had four pieces of bread for dinner. 

"These guys went through hell and they weren't supposed to be incarcerated, just detained," Vivian Mikho said. "Sometimes my brother was bunked up with killers or child molesters and being treated like he committed a brand new crime. It was hard to get these calls. What's pretty righteous is that a lot of these guys are in there for marijuana charged and it became legal while they were in there."

Usama “Sam” Hamama of West Bloomfield, is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. He was released in February from a detention center in St. Clair County after posting a $100,000 bond and said he still fears he'll be detained again. 

"I did give up hope the first three or five days we were detained," said Hamama, 56, during a news conference Wednesday outside the ICE Detroit Field Office. "Being a Christian and faith in God gave me the best hope. All I can say is tell your families you love them every day and don't take it for granted."

Others outside of Metro Detroit were swept up in the raids. Rebwar Hassan, a father of three, was released Sunday in Atlanta to his wife and two daughters after 19 months of detention.

Hassan, 38, was detained last year for a charge in connection to a fight in 2001 with his ex-wife at the age of 19. Hassan served two years in prison in 2004 for the charge and was released under supervision for 14 years. Then came the June raids, after which he was moved in detention between Georgia, Arizonia and Louisiana to seven different facilities. 

"I lost everything I had," he said Wednesday from Atlanta. "Businesses, cars, because I couldn't afford it," Hassan said. "My time in there with people who were suffering like me cost me and my family more than I ever imagined. When I asked why they kept moving me, officers said, 'It's ICE, they can move people wherever they what, whenever they want.' "

In an emotional video that his wife recorded, Hassan is released from an Atlanta detention center as his 4-year-old daughter, Zohra, began crying and yelling "Baba."

"She saw me and ran up to the gate," Hassan said. "Then the officer opened the gate towards her. She was confused for a minute and ran back to her mom because she didn't believe it.  When they would visit me she would cry behind the glass because she would reach out and couldn't touch me. 

"Since I've been released, I can't step outside or go anywhere without her. She starts screaming and thinks I'm going back to jail."

Sam Hamama (center), speaks about his former ICE detention along with his son Chris Hamama (left) and daughter Britany Hamama outside the Rosa Parks Federal Building in Detroit on Wednesday, December, 19, 2018.

Others also spoke of the difficulties related to the separations. Vivian Mikho described the hardships the detention caused for her family and the legal issues that remain. Individuals who want to provide financial support for the returning detainees can contact the ACLU or Code Legal Aid.

"I wouldn’t even begin to describe what financial toll this has taken," Vivian Mikho said. "It ruined everyone, my whole family. Money may be tight right now but at least he’s home and this is what matters. It’s worth his well-being."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_