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ACLU asks judge to free nearly 300 Iraqi detainees

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lawyers have asked a federal court to release nearly 300 Iraqi nationals trying to avoid deportation to their native country, saying they are being held unjustly, according to a motion filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who is presiding over the case, had issued a preliminary injunction in July that stopped the deportation of Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal from the U.S. after they were rounded up in June by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Most of those who were detained are Christians who fear face persecution, torture or even death in Iraq, where they are a minority.

Goldsmith’s order acknowledged the difficulties the detainees faced in obtaining legal representation and gave them more time to fight their cases — and it has been effective, according to the motion.

“[T]hey are winning,” the document says. “Petitioners are winning their motions to reopen ... cases because of their strong claims of the likelihood of persecution, torture, or death in Iraq. Yet almost all remain incarcerated ... It is likely that most Petitioners will not, in the end, be removed.”

But resolution of all of the cases could take months or even years, the ACLU said. The group argued that those in immigration proceedings cannot be detained unless the government is likely to deport them soon and cannot be held for prolonged periods without an individual assessment to determine flight risk or danger to the community.

“The government cannot lock people up without a reason, but ICE has done just that,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney. “These individuals have lived and worked in their communities, some for decades, and there is no reason they should not be home with their children and back at their jobs while their cases take months and years to work their way through our legal system.”

The latest estimates show 279 detainees are being held in 47 detention facilities in 26 states, with the majority at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio, according to data from the ACLU. The roundup came after a change in federal policy that allowed the U.S. to return Iraqi nationals to their native country.

Those facing deportation and detained for more than 90 days are entitled to a review but instead have faced blanket denials, extensions of their detention or no review, the ACLU said.

“The Trump administration is shamefully prolonging the agony of these Iraqi families in the hopes that they voluntarily give up their immigration cases. It’s time for the court to once again step in and say enough,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.

Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, responded to the ACLU’s filing in a statement Wednesday.

“As a matter of policy, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement does not comment on pending litigation. However, lack of comment should not be construed as agreement with or stipulation to any of the allegations,” he said.

“As part of the Department of Homeland Security’s homeland security mission, our trained law enforcement professionals adhere to the Department’s mission and values, and uphold our laws while continuing to provide the nation with safety and security.”