Michigan reps press Biden administration to halt Iraqi deportations

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Two Michigan representatives in Congress are urging Biden administration officials to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals, requesting long-term relief for their families.

U.S. Reps. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, plan to send a letter Thursday to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tae D. Johnson outlining Iraqi deportations since June 2017.

The letter hopes to offer relief for Iraqi nationals who have been fighting deportation for more than three years, fearing their religion, ethnicity or ties to America would make them targets if deported to Iraq.

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.

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"Conditions in Iraq have changed dramatically since their removal orders were entered, and it would be not only unfair, but dangerous to deport Iraqis without ensuring that their cases are considered individually based on current country conditions," Levin and Moolenaar write in the letter.

No blanket relief from removals has been granted. One thousand Chaldean Christians are among those facing an immediate risk of deportation, the lawmakers said.

Levin noted that Wednesday morning, a federal judge in Texas ruled against the Biden administration’s 100-day halt to deportation of undocumented immigrants.

“We have seen that ICE is continuing to deport people, even as the Biden administration takes the reins of the Department of Homeland Security," Levin said in a statement.

"We cannot relax our efforts to protect Iraqi nationals who would be in great danger of harm, torture or death if they were deported. I’m eager to work with the new administration to stop this action and secure relief for these individuals and their families.”

An appeals court in April 2019 affirmed a ruling that federal agents could resume deporting an estimated 1,000 remaining Iraqi detainees swept up in immigration raids in 2017 during the Trump administration. More than 100 of the 1,400 detained that summer were from Michigan.

Levin and Moolenaar have pushed to pass a bill to delay deportations for Iraqi nationals for two years until their cases have been heard in immigration court. They followed up with letters to now former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

The lawmakers highlighted the case of Jimmy Aldaoud, 41, who was deported from Oakland County in August 2019 and was found dead in Iraq after a diabetic episode not long after. Aldaoud's body was returned to Michigan and was laid to rest beside his mother.

"Jimmy had never been to Iraq, had no legal, government-recognized identification, had no family, had no knowledge of geography or customs, did not speak the language and, ultimately, had no access to medical care that could have saved his life," the lawmakers wrote. 

"We are determined to prevent any further injustices like those that led to Jimmy’s death."

Miriam Aukerman of the ACLU

Miriam Aukerman, senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said of the thousand that are at risk of deportation, only a handful remain in detention.

"The situation remains as dangerous as it was when we went into court because they face persecution, torture or death," Aukerman said. "We're really glad to see this bipartisan recognition and commitment to trying to find a long-term resolution that will protect them."

She highlighted the lead plaintiff in the ACLU's class-action lawsuit, Sam Hamama's case saying if other's were given a chance to have their cases heard, they too, could be on the pathway to citizenship.

"We're seeing a real recognition of the need for immigration reform and this is just one part of a larger picture," Aukerman said. "The administration can simply decide that it does not want to prioritize these removals in simply direct ICE not to remove people absent a determination that they will be safe."

Rep. Andy Levin (right) speaks with Sam Hamana during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

ICE officials have said the agency would continue making removal arrangements for those with final orders of removal, consistent with the court's ruling.

"The challenges with deportation haven’t much changed," said Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and Chaldean Community Foundation.

"Congress and/or the administration should take action to help alleviate the pain, suffering and ongoing anxiety many in the community are still feeling because of their immigration status," Manna added. 

"A long-term solution is needed, either through a specific bill in Congress to address the issue or by providing protective status through the administration."

In June 2020, 13 members of Michigan's delegation in the U.S. House joined in a bipartisan letter drafted by Levin and Moolenaar requesting the Judiciary Committee hold hearings on the deportation of the Iraqi nationals. 

Levin's Metro Detroit district has the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the country, according to census data. 

"We estimate there are still a thousand people who are at risk and those families also need protection," Aukerman said.


Staff writer Melissa Nann Burke contributed.