Judge freezes Iraqi deportations nationwide

Nicquel Terry, and Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Detroit — A federal judge on Monday expanded a stay on deportations of Metro Detroit Iraqi immigrants into a national, two-week ban.

The temporary stays allow the immigrants to file motions to reopen their removal orders and seek stays of removal from the immigration court.

There are an estimated 1,400 Iraqi immigrants in the U.S. with final orders of removal, according to a new motion filed by the plaintiffs. Of those, some 85 faced removal as early as Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote.

Goldsmith noted the similarities between the national groups and the Metro Detroit cases.

“The same grave consequences face the expanded class, which establishes irreparable harm,” he wrote. “Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately.”

Plaintiff attorney Margo Schlanger said the facts are the same in both filings: the immigrants face torture and death if forced to return to Iraq where ISIS is on the rise.

"The judge understood that the stakes are way too high to rush people into deportation, so he put a pause on ICE’s efforts to immediately deport folks and put them in harm's way," she said Monday night. "That gives us a chance to get the process they’re entitled to."

A representative for ICE said the agency would comment on the ruling early Tuesday.

Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said: "Obviously this is an extraordinary case and removing people to Iraq presents extraordinary circumstances and we very much appreciate the thoughtfulness and consideration the court is continuing to give this matter. We will review the court’s opinion and the applicable law and we will determine our next steps accordingly."

The government has also made it difficult for detainees to obtain legal counsel and file habeas petitions contesting their imprisonment because they are constantly being transferred to different prisons, Schlanger said in court.

“It can’t get done because the transfers are too fast and too opaque,” Schlanger said. “We are talking about repeat transfers every couple days.”

Goldsmith had issued a two-week stay Thursday for 114 detained immigrants but the American Civil Liberties Union requested Saturday that he expand the stay to include at least 85 other Iraqis arrested across the country as of June 14. The immigrants were rounded up in Nashville, southern California and several other areas, Schlanger said in court Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Newby argued the federal court did not have jurisdiction to issue a stay for an entire class of immigrants. She said the immigrants’ requests for stays should be considered on an individual basis in immigration court.

“There’s no indication that all Iraqi nationals are opposed to removal or want to be in this class,” Newby said.

Newby said it’s also unclear whether the immigrants could even get any relief from the immigration court.

ICE officials have said they won’t deport any Iraqi nationals before Tuesday but “refused any further assurances,” according to the court filing.

The lawsuit seeks to have the court issue a revised order “to include all Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE (U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement).”

Most of the detainees from Metro Detroit have been transferred to Youngstown, Ohio, to begin the process of deportation. The lawsuit said “... the fact that ICE is moving detainees rapidly from location to location has made it even more difficult in other states than it is in Michigan for detainees to obtain counsel and access the federal or immigration courts.”

Families of the detainees say they fear they could be persecuted in Iraq, which has agreed to accept them. Detainees and their families have sought to suspend the deportations so they can further argue in court that sending them to Iraq would be dangerous.

Sumar Zora is among Metro Detroit family members who are worried about detained loved ones. Zora said her husband, Hadeel Khalasawi, was picked up early June 11. She said he was handcuffed and taken away.

Zora said her 43-year-old husband’s green card was revoked after he served time in prison for an assault when he was a teen. She said he had a marijuana possession charge 12 years ago but he “paid for his mistake,” has been a law-abiding citizen and a “great husband and father.”

Zora said she fears for her husband’s life if he is sent to Iraq, a place he left when he was a year old. She said he has tattoos depicting his Christian faith and because of that, she said he would be marked by Islamic extremists.

“I know my husband is going to be in big trouble if he is sent back,” Zora said Sunday. “What do I tell my children if he is killed? America sent him to his death?”

The U.S. government said the detainees are being deported because they committed crimes. Families say some of the crimes were minor and that some of those crimes were committed years ago and that the detainees served their time.

“I think it’s imperative the court extends this motion throughout the country because these Iraqi nationals face the same situation,” said Crystal Kassab Jabiro, a community activist and volunteer with Code Legal Aid. “Deporting them to Iraq, where they will face peril and persecution, carelessly defies the moral integrity of our nation.

“I pray the court reaches a noble and just decision, and has mercy on not only the detainees, but also their families.”

The Associated Press and Detroit News Staff Writer Mark Hicks contributed.