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Two Michigan congressmen on Friday spearheaded a bipartisan effort urging 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 behind a Friday letter 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 Friday. 

"This is about fairness and it is about humanity," Levin said in a statement. "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. So many of the people affected by this decision have known no home except for America, and they have nothing to return to."

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

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. 

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

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

Backers of the letter include: Justin Amash (R-MI-03), Jack Bergman (R-MI-01), Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11), Jim Cooper (D-TN-05), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), Josh Harder (D-CA-10), Bill Huizenga (R-MI-02), Dan Kildee (D-MI-05), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14), Doris Matsui (D-CA-06), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), Haley Stevens (D-MI-11), Tom Suozzi (D-NY-03) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13).

“For these reasons, it is paramount that the administration abstain from mass deportation and instead allow each case to be evaluated on its own merits," Levin said. "Every Iraqi deserves consideration on a case-by-case basis. The stakes are too high for anything less.”

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 Friday 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. "I really believe in this country that we have a heart and people care about human beings and how families will be broken apart."

Hamama, 56, is safe from deportation. 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," he said. "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." 

srahal@detroitnews.com
Twitter: @SarahRahal_

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