ACLU says removal unlikely, asks court to free detainees

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

The ACLU has asked a judge to release more than 100 Iraqi nationals detained by U.S. immigration authorities, asserting there's no reasonable timetable for their removal.

In a filing dated Wednesday, the American Civil Liberties Union requested that U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith free the detainees, many held for more than a year, after alleging documents obtained in a lawsuit, Hamama v. Adducci, on their behalf shows they are unlikely to be removed from the country.

Detention under such circumstances is prohibited by the Constitution and federal law, the attorneys argue. In June 2001, the Supreme Court invalidated federal detention policies, ruling detention is permissible only so long as removal is "reasonably foreseeable" and detention beyond that period would raise profound constitutional concerns.

ACLU attorneys also assert the government is misrepresenting whether Iraq would accept the detainees, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials claim, saying the country has a longstanding policy against involuntary repatriation.

The group filed another motion Wednesday to allow the public to see related documents sealed under a protective order. 

“It is appalling that ICE wants to lock these people up and throw away the key, and even more appalling that ICE misled the court in order to do so,” said Miriam Aukerman, ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney, in a statement. “ICE’s dishonesty is the reason the detainees are behind bars, rather than home with their families.”

ICE officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

The filings are the latest development in a class-action lawsuit the ACLU filed in 2017 to stop federal immigration officials from deporting Iraqi nationals swept up in ICE raids across the country.

About 120 Iraqis remain detained, the group said Wednesday.

In an order last week, Goldsmith said immigration officials appear to be targeting some Iraqi detainees at Calhoun County Jail in Battle Creek. He claimed there was evidence of harsh treatment in an attempt to pressure them to drop the lawsuit or not challenge their deportations.

An order the judge issued in June mandates 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.

Based on the allegations at the Calhoun County Jail, Goldsmith gave the government until Aug. 31 to release to 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.