Michigan lawmakers seek pause in Iraqi deportations under Biden administration

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Two Michigan lawmakers are reintroducing a bill Wednesday in Congress that would grant Iraqi nationals with orders of removal 24 months of relief from deportation while they pursue immigration relief. 

U.S. Reps. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, first introduced the legislation last term, in 2019, but it never moved out of committee. 

The bill would apply to Iraqi nationals with orders of removal and who resided in the United States on or before Jan. 1, 2016. It excludes individuals deemed a threat to national security, who are returning to Iraq voluntarily or who are subject to extradition.

The Deferred Removal for Iraqi Nationals Including Minorities Act is co-sponsored by the entire Michigan delegation in the U.S. House. 

The lawmakers sent a letter in February to the Biden administration calling for similar long-term relief for Iraqi nationals who have been fighting deportation for four years this month — since June 2017 — 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.

"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 wrote in the letter to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Acting Director Tae D. Johnson.

No blanket relief from removals was granted during the Trump administration, and over 1,000 Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. have been ordered removed and are at risk of deportation, the lawmakers said. It can take years to reopen an immigration case and pursue a formal appeal for relief.

The aim of the legislation is to give the Iraqis — many of whom have been living in the U.S. for years or decades — enough time to try to reopen their immigration cases and make the argument that country conditions have changed in Iraq since they were ordered removed from the U.S.

Under the bill, the Department of Homeland Security also would be prohibited from detaining any individual who received a deferral for the two-year period under the measure.

An appeals court in April 2019 affirmed a ruling that federal agents could resume deporting 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.

Some of those detained Iraqis won relief in immigration court after litigation, including deferral of removal or reinstatement of their status as lawful permanent residents. Many of the cases are still pending.

The lawmakers have cautioned officials by citing 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 his family in Michigan.

"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 in the February letter. 

"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 bill text notes that the U.S. State Department warns against travel to Iraq due to "terrorism, kidnapping and armed conflict." 

DHS did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment. 


Staff Writer Sarah Rahal contributed.