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Judge: Feds pressuring Iraqi detainees in Mich. jail

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

A federal judge in Detroit said immigration officials appear to be targeting some Iraqi detainees at a southwest Michigan jail, saying there was evidence of harsh treatment in an attempt to pressure them to drop their lawsuit or not challenge their deportations.

A  2017 rally was held in support of people, many of them Iraqi immigrants, who have been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement outside the U.S. District Federal Courthouse in Detroit

"Because there is substantiation of the allegations and because the coercion appears to be an attempt to undermine the Court’s prior orders on removal, the Court finds the relief requested reasonable, despite the burden on Respondents," U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote about attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union to receive documentation of detainees' treatment.

The order issued Wednesday is the latest development in the class-action lawsuit the ACLU filed to stop federal immigration officials from deporting more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals taken in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids. More than 100 detainees were from Metro Detroit.

Goldsmith’s decision on Wednesday relates to his order in June stipulating that ICE officers and Department of Homeland Security employees cannot threaten prosecution, suggest how long an individual might remain in detention or say whether being part of the case affects their removal.

However, ACLU officials have argued that detainees are facing stricter discipline at the Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek due to the case, which is named after lead plaintiff Usama “Sam” Hamama. He came to the United States at age 11, hasn't lived in Iraq for 40 years was among the Iraqi nationals detained by agents.

The jail has 30 detainees, “by far the most of any detention facility nationwide,” said ACLU legal fellow Monica Andrade in a filing last month.

Some appeared to have been segregated “not to safeguard institutional security but rather to pressure Hamama class members into waiving their rights and giving up
their immigration cases,” she wrote. 

One claimed he was placed in solitary confinement for climbing onto a toilet seat to kill a spider and removing his shirt to shave despite having permission to do so, Andrade said.

Meanwhile, some detainees alleged that facility or ICE staff have told them they remain detained because of the litigation, according to her filing. 

Goldsmith noted that in their responses last month, government attorneys did not dispute the allegations but said the detainees could file a grievance as outlined in detention standards.

Based on the allegations, Goldsmith ordered the government to give the detainees’ lawyers the names of those sent to administrative or disciplinary segregation, the dates, the basis and ICE views on whether it conforms to policy before Aug. 31. 

The government also must submit a written report before Sept. 7 addressing whether the detainees’ segregation conforms to the jail and ICE policies as well as Goldsmith's decision.

ICE officials are reviewing the decision, spokesman Khaalid Walls said Wednesday night.

ACLU Michigan officials welcomed the judge’s order.

“ICE is still using threats, mistreatment and prolonged detention to try to force Iraqis to give up their fight to stay in America with their families,” senior staff attorney Miriam Aukerman said. “The judge made it very clear that he is not going to allow ICE to ignore his orders.”