2 Iraqi detainees plead not guilty after cutting their tethers to evade deportation

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Two Iraqi nationals from Michigan who cut off their tethers to evade deportation were arraigned Tuesday on charges of hampering their removals, to which they pleaded not guilty.

Ali Al-Sadoon, 33, of Redford Township and Wisam Hamana, 39, of Warren were both arraigned in federal court in front of Judge Mona K. Majzoub on one charge of interfering with their deportations. They face up to four years of’ imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

Shawn Vaughn holds a sign reading "Free Wisam Hamana" outside the federal courthouse on Lafayette on Tuesday.

Shanta Driver, who represents 23 Iraqi nationals with removal orders, including Al-Sadoon and Hamana, said these are the closest death-penalty cases she's ever worked on and plans on taking them to trail.

"This is a big overreach on part of the government," Driver said. "I think we have a big chance of winning at trial. We need to try them because it needs to become clear to the nation that the government is taking people for whatever minor crimes from their past and now imposing a death sentence on them."

The men are being deported for committing crimes the government believes violate U.S. immigration laws. They are more vulnerable to deportation after being released from detention because their immigration cases were denied and they are seeking emergency stays so they can appeal their cases.

The ACLU of Michigan has argued in federal court, where the detainees' fates have played out for the past two years, against repatriation to Iraq because, it says, if the men are sent back, they face torture or death because of their Christian faith, for having served in the U.S. military or for seeking U.S. asylum.

Gina Balaya, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorneys Office, said the men's detention has been continued following their arraignments Tuesday.

"People who are lawfully ordered to be deported who then obstruct their deportation by cutting off monitoring devices (tethers) or fleeing from ICE are subject to criminal prosecution, and so is anyone who harbors, transports, or conceals such fugitives,” said U.S. Attorney Matthew Schneider. “Our office will not turn a blind eye to anyone who cuts off a tether, or who assists someone in doing so.”   

ICE, meanwhile, is expediting deportations before that can happen, Driver said.

Al-Sadoon is facing criminal charges for ditching his tether in July in Detroit on the day he was supposed to be deported in addition to removal orders for breaking and entering, for which he was sentenced in 2013.

Al-Sadoon was arrested at his home on July 26 by ICE officials who were "busting down the door and holding guns pointed" at him while his six children were holding on to him, said his wife, Belqis Florido. ICE had a different version of events in Al-Sadoon's recent arrest.

Driver and Florido said in 2010, Al-Sadoon's brother was kidnapped at the airport in Iraq and was never heard from again.

Immigration officials also charged Hamana, who spent 18 months in detention for his criminal record and a standing deportation order. He was briefly released on supervision and was redetained for cutting his tether.

Iraqi refugee Wisam Hamana said he planned to fight his deportation back to Iraq by any means necessary, he told BAMN.

Hamana's case is one of the most typical. The Chaldean Christian came to the U.S. as a refugee at 3-years-old and grew up in Detroit and moved to Warren with his family.

Like Al-Sadoon, Hamana cut his tether fearing deportation after his cousin was kidnapped and murdered in Iraq in 2012, family said.

His sister, Kristina Hamana, said their entire family, including his 10-year-old son, is in Michigan.

Kristina Hamana joins protesters outside the federal courthouse before her brother's hearing on Tuesday.

"We don't have any family in Iraq. All Iraqi Christians have fled because of what's going on there, and our family we have has scattered to Germany and California," said Kristina Hamana, 35. "Anyone in their right mind would do what he did."

Iraqi detainees gained international attention after a homeless refugee from Detroit was found dead after he was deported to Iraq. Jimmy Al-Daoud, who they say was a bipolar schizophrenic and diabetic, had been living on the streets in Baghdad when he died. He was 41 years old.

Kristina Hamana called on lawmakers to enact change, saying: "Something has to change or we're going to have another case like Jimmy. Do they not care that people are dying? That could have been my brother."

► More: Vigil held for refugee who 'shouldn't have been deported'

► More: Fearing deportation, Iraqi refugees cut tethers

Both men spent more than a year in detention after being picked up in raids across Metro Detroit in June 2017 following President Donald Trump's executive orders barring admission into the U.S. of nationals from seven countries, including Iraq. 

Drive said at least seven refugees have cut their tethers and two additional men, who were detained Sunday for removing their monitors, appeared in federal court Tuesday to begin their cases. She said the refugees cut their tethers because they "get to a point of desperation."

ICE officials said cutting off the tethers has forced the agency to detain the men again and file federal charges for the act.

"Removing GPS tracking devices could expose aliens to violations of their reporting requirements, federal criminal charges and prolonged detention," ICE said.

Protesters outside the federal courthouse on Lafayette before Ali Al-Sadoon and Wisam Hamana's hearing Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019.

The courtroom on Tuesday was packed with families, protesters and government officials who were interested in seeing the outcome of their cases.

A small group of protesters with By Any Means Necessary gathered outside the federal courthouse on Lafayette before the hearing chanting, "No more death by deportation, free our people now."

"So long as they are concentration camps at the border and people keep getting sentenced to their deaths, I'll be protesting out here on their behalf," said Shawn Vaughn, 27, of Detroit. "Trump needs to be impeached. We can't sit back and let this happen."


Twitter: @SarahRahal_