Mich. members of Congress seek pause in Iraqi deportations

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, left, D-District 9, and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, applaud one of the speakers during a press conference announcing a bi-partisan bill they cowrote that would provide a 2-year period of relief to Iraqi nationals facing deportation on May 3, 2019.  The bill would allow time for Iraqi nationals' cases to be heard in the courts.

West Bloomfield — Michigan members of Congress announced a bill Friday that would grant Iraqi nationals with orders of removal two years of relief from detainment and deportation while they await individual hearings.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township and Republican Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland are spearheading the bipartisan effort and plan to introduce the bill Tuesday.

The two previously sent a letter signed by more than 20 other lawmakers from across the country calling on the Department of Homeland Security and for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt the deportation of Iraqi nationals, including Christians at risk of religious persecution.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-District 9, announces a bi-partisan bill he wrote with U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, that would provide a 2-year period of relief to Iraqi nationals facing deportation during a press conference at the Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, Michigan on May 3, 2019.  The bill would stave off deportations and allow time for Iraqi nationals' cases to be heard in the courts.

"We're asking for fairness and this is about humanity,” Levin said Friday evening at the Shenandoah Country Club just before the annual Chaldean Awards Dinner. “Iraqi nationals with orders for removal must have the time it takes to have their cases heard individually in immigration court.

"Numerous Iraqi nationals, including many Chaldean Christians, will face persecution for their religion, their ethnicity or their ties to America if they are forced back to Iraq against their will," he said. "It is our duty to do everything we can to protect them."

Levin said their plan involves working with the executive branch to protect the Iraqi nationals from deportation without due process.

The bill would apply to Iraqi nationals with orders of removal and who resided in the United States on or before Jan. 1, 2014. It would exclude those who pose a threat to national security, are returning voluntarily or are subject to extradition, Levin said.

"This gives people time to seek reopening their immigration cases and proceedings," he said. "All we're asking is for due process and it's time to make this a national discussion."

"It's time for people to have their day in court and for them to realize what type of danger we would be putting people in by sending them back to Iraq," Moolenaar said. "All of us value religious liberty and in many countries that isn't the case ... It's something that all of us, created in the image of God, treasure and advocate for."

Other members of Congress who support the proposal include Democratic Reps. Brenda Lawrence of Southfield, Elissa Slotkin of Holly, Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Debbie Dingell of Dearborn. The lawmakers stood beside Iraqi families in calling on federal authorities to prioritize the safety of Iraqi nationals who face deportation following a ruling by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In April, 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 appeals court ruling means some Iraqi detainees previously protected by the court order now face deportation.

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 of the lawmakers who signed the letter have significant Iraqi-born communities in their districts, Levin said.

Should the bill pass, DHS would also be required to provide notice of changes in immigration statuses within two months of their enactment and would be prevented from detaining any individual who receives deferral for the 24-month period.

Following the announcement that the heads of both DHS and ICE were departing, Levin, Slotkin and U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting intervention based on his history of advocating for persecuted Christians abroad. Levin said Moolenaar has been key to working with the Trump administration.

"I'm going to work with our colleagues, work with the administration and we're going to get this done whether it's all the way through the Congress or Executive Branch, you have my commitment that we're going to get this done," Moolenaar said.

Levin's opinion: Iraqi nationals deserve fairness

Slotkin, a former CIA officer who did three tours in Iraq, said the U.S. is aware that it is unsafe for the nationals to be repatriated. 

"As someone who spent time working with the Iraqi government, the forced repatriation of citizens is against Iraqi law," Slotkin said. "It is incumbent on us as elected officials to apply the appropriate amount of pressure in order to see this through."

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, offers remarks on the new bill. 

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-District 9, announces details of a bi-partisan bill he wrote with U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, that would provide a 2-year period of relief to Iraqi nationals facing deportation during a press conference at the Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, Michigan on May 3, 2019.  The bill would allow time for Iraqi nationals' cases to be heard in the courts.

Hamama v. Adducci

The latest ruling in 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 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 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, 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, the ACLU 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.

Rebecca Adducci, ICE Detroit Field Office director, said in April the 6th 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. "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 could not comment on pending litigation.

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.

"You have to understand the families that are being torn apart," Hamama said to lawmakers. "Most of us are men, can you imagine houses broken without fathers and brothers. What are they going to be? We love our community, our Christian faith and most are good people. You people have given us a chance, but a family for two years isn’t enough, a family forever is enough."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_