Protesters rally as ICE continues to deport Iraqi nationals in Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
People protest in front of the ICE Detroit Field Office in Detroit Friday evening after  five Iraqis allegedly were detained and held for deportation.

Detroit — A group of protesters gathered Friday outside the Detroit Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field office on Jefferson Avenue calling for the release of five Iraqi refugees, they said, are detained inside.

Kate Stenvig of Detroit's BAMN, an advocacy coalition fighting to defend immigrants rights, held a megaphone and led a small group in chanting, "no death by deportation, free our people now."

She said that the group was notified that two Iraqi refugees being represented by BAMN's law firm were detained at the facility. Three additional families also came forward to say their loved ones never returned from appointments at the office, she said.

"At least five people got detained this morning after being called to the office for various reasons," Stenvig said as cars passed during rush hour, many honking in support. "They called one man in saying they needed to fix his tether and another had a check-in. Neither has come back and we think they may have been transferred from the check-in building to the holding cells."

ICE officials issued a Friday statement saying that following a decision from the highest court in April, they are continuing their efforts to deport Iraqi nationals.

"Consistent with the December 20, 2018, decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which lifted the legal barrier to removal against those represented in the Hamama v. Adducci litigation, the agency has been removing, and will continue making removal arrangements for those with final orders of removal who have no legal impediments to removal," ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls said in a statement.

Stenvig said BAMN's lawyers have been working to enter emergency stay status for their clients in immigration court, but need ICE to set their deportation dates.

"What’s really messed up is that we’ve been trying to get an emergency stay for some of the people and the court won't allow it unless ICE gives a date for deportation, which they won't do so they can randomly detain and deport people," Stenvig said. 

► More: Federal agents seek to deport Iraqi refugee who cut his tether

Many of those targeted are plaintiffs in Hamama v. Adducci, a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Michigan in 2017. The ACLU lawsuit was filed after more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide — 114 from Michigan — were swept up in the raids during the summer of 2017.

The raid followed President Donald Trump's executive order barring admission into the United States of nationals from seven countries, including Iraq. Detainees were being held in correctional facilities while it was uncertain if Iraq would accept any detainees at that time. 

Cynthia A. Johnson, state representative. from the 5th District, walks along E. Jefferson while others protest in front of the ICE Detroit Field Office in Detroit Friday.

State Rep. Cynthia Johnson, D-Detroit, marched up and down Jefferson Friday with an "abolish ICE" sign around her neck and her fist raised. 

"We need more people to come out and we need to fight against the evil flowing through 45’s administration that’s doing so much harm," said Johnson, who represents District 5. "It might be them today but all of us tomorrow."

Johnson tried to enter the building to check on the individuals being held. She says she was escorted out.

Some Iraqi nationals were released in December after years in detention based on the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, who said ICE could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals while seeking to deport them.

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

Federal immigration agents resumed deporting Iraqi detainees in April after the full U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel. The three-judge panel in December ruled that Goldsmith lacked the authority to stop the deportations and grant bond hearings.

The reported ICE activity has residents on high alert following anticipated raids by ICE and Department of Homeland Security agents this week. Special agents were also seen requesting records from a Middle Eastern restaurant in Dearborn Monday.

Stenvig said "the community is tight" and members say others have been detained and await Delta flights to be deported routinely on Sundays and Tuesdays.

"People have been fighting so hard to keep them here because they know it's not safe," Stenvig said. "People who have been deported are in hiding. We don’t know why this has to happen, but we want to stop it and we're more organized than ever." 

Twitter: @SarahRahal_