Lawmakers stand with Iraqi families calling to halt mass deportations

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Rep. Andy Levin (right) speaks with Sam Hamana during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Sterling Heights — Michigan lawmakers stood beside Iraqi families Saturday calling on federal authorities to prioritize the safety of Iraqi nationals who face deportation following a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling this week.

On Tuesday, the appeals court upheld an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel that U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith lacked the authority to stop the deportations and grant bond hearings. The bond hearings resulted in the release of hundreds of detainees nationwide in November; however, the ruling means some Iraqi detainees previously protected by the court order face deportation after April 9.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township, and Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, are spearheading the bipartisan effort. The two sent a letter Friday signed by 18 other lawmakers from across the country that calls on the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the deportation of Iraqi nationals, including Christians at risk of religious persecution.

Michigan’s 9th District, represented by Levin, has the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the country, according to census data. Most lawmakers who signed the letter have significant Iraqi-born communities in their districts, Levin said Saturday during an event at the Chaldean Community Foundation. 

"This is not about politics, it's about fairness and it is about humanity," Levin said to the families in attendance.

A large crowd gathered during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

"It would be unconscionable for ICE to move forward with mass detention and deportation of Iraqis — many of whom are Chaldean Christians who would face religious persecution in Iraq," he said. "So many of the people affected by this decision have known no home except for America, and they have nothing to return to."

More lawmakers are jumping on board and they now have 23 signatures on the letter, Levin said.

"A few years my dad and (Republican representative) John Moolenaar led this effort, and when we got the list of where Iraqi nationals live in this country, I felt that we had to take it national," Levin said. "I'm gratified that our colleagues have responded. (Republican representative) Paul Mitchell has signed on to the letter, making 23 members of Congress including six Republican from eight states who have signed that letter."

Democratic U.S. Reps. Brenda Lawrence and Rashida Tlaib stood beside Levin saying "this is a time of action."

"Many of you knew me when I was the mayor of Southfield when the Chaldean community planted so many of your roots — from the Church Mother of God to senior housing... we truly came together as a community," Lawrence said to families. "Never did I think we would have to come together on this issue of deportation. I truly know the impact the Iraqi Chaldean community has made to our economy and to our communities... It breaks my heart."

Tlaib said as a former immigration lawyer, she can see how the current immigration system is broken.

"We haven't been able to make the system more humane... to look at each individual case and give them due process," she said.

"This is the largest bipartisan effort I have seen in my short time in Congress," Tlaib told The Detroit News. "It's going to grow and it's because this is a humanitarian issue."

Hamama v. Adducci

The latest ruling in the case Hamama v. Adducci, a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan in 2017, was in response to 1,400 Iraqi nationals swept up in raids across the country — 114 from Michigan.

The raids in June 2017 followed President Donald Trump's executive order barring admission into the U.S. of nationals from seven countries, including Iraq. In March 2018, Iraq was dropped from the list when a new policy was negotiated between Iraq and the U.S.

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." 

In October, the ACLU filed a petition for the full release and called for sanctions against ICE for repeated delays in providing documents to the court. The government's document review "has moved at a glacial pace," Goldsmith said, citing an "endless cycle of potential removals, but with dubious results."

In his Nov. 20 ruling, Goldsmith said that the federal government cannot indefinitely detain foreign nationals.

The ACLU has accused ICE officers of telling detainees to sign documents saying they want to be sent back to Iraq instead of facing prosecution in the U.S. More than 30 unwillingly signed.

Those who still remain in detention face deportation after April 9, as do those who were released but have yet to request an immigration hearing, or those who failed to convince a judge to allow them to seek an immigration hearing, said Margo Schlanger, a University of Michigan law professor and assisting ACLU attorney. 

"The situation is very tough, but it's not hopeless," Schlanger said to families Saturday. "We're going to keep fighting and a lot of allies that will keep fighting with us. Those in detention need to fight and people who have opened their cases need to fight in immigration court because when we fight, we win."

U.S. Representatives (from left) Andy Levin, Brenda Lawrence and Rashida Tlaib listen during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

A majority of the detainees have filed for immigration hearings. A "small amount" are in limbo, the ACLU said.

"When these cases are heard individually in court, justice is often on the side of the Iraqis," Levin said.

About 400 individuals from the group set to be deported have had their cases reopened. Some are ongoing, many have been granted citizenship, and others have secured protection against removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act or Convention Against Torture.

"They were ordered removed years, even decades ago at a time when those removal orders meant very little because Iraq was not allowing repatriations," the letter reads. "Conditions in Iraq have changed dramatically since their removal orders were entered, and it would be not just unfair, but dangerous, to deport Iraqis without ensuring that their cases will be individually considered based on current country conditions."

The letter also requests details of plans for removal of the Iraqi nationals, including whether a deportation agreement exists between the U.S. and Iraq, and what measures will be taken to ensure that religious minorities are protected from persecution.

Rebecca Adducci, ICE Detroit Field Office director, said Wednesday the Sixth Circuit ruling was a win for ICE, allowing the agency to resume efforts they began two years ago.

“This decision is a decisive victory further vindicating ICE’s efforts to remove these aliens, many of whom had criminal convictions, to Iraq," she said in a statement Wednesday. "The court's decision again affirms that each individual fully litigated their cases, receiving exhaustive due process. ICE is now reviewing this decision to determine its next steps.”

Adducci was not available Saturday for comment on the letter.

Schlanger said an unknown number of class members still in detention under six months are in danger of being removed if they haven't sought out an individual stay request.

"They need to be fighting hard," she said. "Nobody should be thinking that Iraq is saying no to everybody. They have taken people back in small numbers."

The civil liberties organization 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.

The ACLU is considering an emergency motion, which they say is highly unlikely to be granted.

Usama “Sam” Hamama of West Bloomfield, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, was among Iraqi nationals detained by ICE agents in the raids. Hamama was released in February 2018 from a detention center in St. Clair County after posting a $100,000 bond. Hamama came to the country when he was 11 and had not returned to Iraq.

"For someone like Andy Levin and others to step up for us like this is indescribable," Hamama said Saturday. "I really believe in this country that we have a heart and people care about human beings and how families will be broken apart."

Sam Hamana speaks during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.  Hamana, has been dealing with his own deportation situation and he has his day in court soon.

Hamama, 56, has a court date in 2020. In December, he was one of 61 offenders in Michigan who were pardoned or had their sentence commuted by then-Gov. Rick Snyder. 

He said despite being detained and following this fight for two years, he has faith in the system.

"We have a good system in place and I'm almost 100% sure this will work," Hamama told The Detroit News. "I have faith in the system. Due process is a great thing and I believe in it even with what my family has been through. 

"In the end, we're all trying to understand this. Some people deserve it, others don't. Everyone deserves their day in court." 

'Not an easy reality'

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, a social and human services organization in Sterling Heights, says "I don't think there's going to be relief coming with this administration."

"We need to buy these people some additional time to have a fair and justice system. More than 160,000 Iraqis contribute almost $11 billion to the economy," Manna said. "They've paid their dues to society and all we're asking is for a chance."

Ashourina Slewo's father was released in March 2018 from the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center, she but said there's great fear even after his motion was granted last summer. Slewo's case won't be heard until his immigration hearing in January 2021.

"It's not an easy reality to plan for your father to be deported," said Slewo, 23, from Madison Heights. "As soon as you feel like you can breathe again, you get knocked down. We have so many people who have rallied behind us but there's only so much we can do. We're looking towards our Congress to fight for us."

Slewo said the Iraqi community is under attack and has little support.

"My family taught me to love this country before I could even write my own name," she said in tears. "We need help and this administration isn't open to helping us. We are as much apart of this country as they are."
Twitter: @SarahRahal_