Michigan GOP, Democratic reps seek hearing on Iraqi deportations

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Thirteen members of Michigan's delegation in the U.S. House are asking the Judiciary Committee for hearings on the deportation of Iraqi nationals, including Christians potentially facing religious persecution. 

The bipartisan letter — led by U.S. Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township — also requests that the panel take up their bill to delay deportations for Iraqi nationals for two years until their cases have been heard in immigration court.

The letter comes more than four months after President Donald Trump's promise while in Warren to offer relief for Iraqi nationals who have been fighting deportation for three years, fearing their religion, ethnicity or ties to America would make them targets. 

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.

But no blanket relief from removals has been granted. "Hundreds" of Chaldean Christians are among those facing an immediate risk of deportation, the lawmakers said. 

"It has become apparent that a legislative solution is necessary to provide the time and opportunity for impacted individuals to seek reopening on their immigration proceedings," Levin and Moolenaar wrote. 

"We were encouraged to hear of the president’s concern and stand ready to work with you on this legislative solution."

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. Over 100 of the 1,400 detained that summer were from Michigan. 

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

Levin and Moolenaar previously have written to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security asking for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to refrain from wholesale detention and deportation of the Iraqis, as well as appeals to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. 

Many of these individuals were ordered removed years or decades ago, and lawmakers contend that conditions in Iraq have since changed "dramatically," citing the "well-documented" threats to religious minorities like Chaldean Christians.

"... It would be not only unfair, but dangerous, to deport Iraqis without ensuring that their cases are considered individually based on current country condition," they wrote.

"Many individuals have known no home other than America, and they speak little or no Arabic, which puts them in danger in Iraq regardless of religion or ethnicity."

They highlighted the case of Jimmy Al-Daoud, 41, who was deported from Detroit a year ago and was found dead in Iraq after a diabetic episode not long after. 

"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," Levin and Moolenaar wrote.

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

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

The House members said they had discussed their bill "at length" with House Judiciary staff and are open to discussing modifications that the panel suggests.

Other Michigan members who signed the letter are Reps. Justin Amash, L-Cascade Township; Jack Bergman, R-Watersmeet; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township; Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; Elissa Slotkin, D-Holly; Haley Stevens, D-Rochester; Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit; Tim Walberg, R-Tipton; and Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph.

mburke@detroitnews.com