Legislators: Immigrant detainees need attorney access

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Federal immigration officials are “almost certainly” denying Michigan detainees fair access to their attorneys by housing them in Youngstown, Ohio, according to a bipartisan group of state legislators.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, and nine other legislators raised concerns over the practice in a letter sent last week to Rebecca Adducci, Detroit field director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Since mid-January, 57 percent of individuals detained in Michigan have been sent to Youngstown, which is more than 230 miles from Detroit, according to the letter.

That distance “is almost certainly prohibitive for both attorneys and family members to be able to visit the individuals being detained,” the legislators said.

The letter comes on the heels of an early June raid in which federal immigration agents arrested more than 100 local Iraqi Christians living in Metro Detroit. It prompted an outcry from Chaldean community leaders who said the detainees could face persecution if sent back to their home country.

“(Families) are in grief,” said Joseph Kassab of the Iraqi Christian Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield Township. “They don’t know what’s going to happen to their children. They don’t think this is a good time to send their children to Iraq. We know if they are sent back home they are going to face torture and possibly killing because of their faith.”

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation based in Sterling Heights, said deporting the detainees is knowingly “putting people in harm’s way.”

Detroit U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith 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.

ICE has said the recent arrests of Iraqi nationals was part of an effort to process a backlog of individuals with criminal convictions.

Kassab said the stay gives detainees more time to appear in immigration courts. He said he lobbies on the behalf of detainees, providing testimony and a 400-page list of reasons why an individual detainee should not be deported.

“They have repented, started businesses,” he said. “It’s difficult for them to go back home. They do not speak the language. It’s hard for them to be sent home. None came here illegally.”

Manna said detainee housing in Ohio has made it hard for families to visit their loved ones. It also poses a challenge to immigration attorneys to cross state lines.

“It makes it more difficult to give people due process,” he said.

Spokesman Khaalid Walls said Tuesday that ICE seeks to house detainees within the geographical area of their arrest “whenever possible.”

Individuals arrested by the Detroit ICE office are typically detained in Michigan or Ohio, which is the geographical area covered by the office, Walls explained.

The letter was sent to ICE by Chang and signed by Reps. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township; Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn; Dave Pagel, R-Berrien Springs; Vanessa Guerra, D-Saginaw; Martin Howrylak, R-Troy; Darren Camilleri, D-Brownstown Township; Steve Marino, R-Harrison Township; Yousef Rabhi, D-Ann Arbor, and Larry Inman, R-Traverse City. Kesto also is a board member of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, according to his legislative website.

Chang said in a meeting earlier this year that Adducci indicated ICE could pursue additional facility contracts in Michigan. The legislators asked for an update on that effort and requested an opportunity to meet with agency officials.

They “respectfully and urgently” encouraged ICE to plan major enforcement activities in a way that promotes access to legal counsel.

“When an individual is detained, it is not only that individual who is impacted,” the legislators wrote. “Family members, including children, also experience trauma and stress from the situation, and having direct access to be able to communicate with their loved one is very important.”

Walls said the federal government cannot comment on what, if any, relief or protection individuals may have sought or be seeking while in custody.


Candice Williams contributed.