A Detroit federal judge ruled Tuesday that the government cannot deport nearly 200 illegal immigrants from Iraq, due to concerns that they could be persecuted if returned to their home country.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith found that he had the legal authority to stay the deportations indefinitely while the detained Iraqis appeal their cases in federal court.
In his ruling, Goldsmith said that repatriating the Iraqis would expose them to “substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court,” reports Reuters. (RELATED: Lawyers Ask Federal Judge To Freeze All Deportations Of Iraqis)
The decision comes after Goldsmith granted a temporary, two-week stay on the deportations of 199 Iraqi nationals that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) had arrested in targeted operations in June. The judge extended the reprieve for another two weeks July 6 due to the “complexity of the issue involved and the time necessary to prepare an opinion.”
Most of the ICE detainees are Iraqi Kurds or Chaldean Christians that were living in the Detroit metro area. Advocates for the Iraqis say they have been living in the U.S. for years and do not present a threat to public safety, but ICE claims all of those arrested have criminal convictions, many for serious offenses including murder, rape and drug trafficking.
Federal immigration officials say there are about 1,400 Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal in the U.S., the vast majority of which are not in custody.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which is representing the Iraqis, has argued that the detainees could be targeted for attacks in Iraq because they are historically persecuted minorities in that country. Due to the unique threats faced in their native country, the ACLU says, Iraqi detainees should be permitted to appeal their deportations in the federal courts. The Department of Justice, on the other hand, has argued that only immigration courts have jurisdiction in the matter.
Despite outstanding orders of removal, many of the Iraqis had been allowed to stay in the U.S. because until recently, Iraq had refused to accept them for repatriation. Iraq agreed to take back the detainees in March as part of a deal to remove the country from the Trump administration’s revised travel ban.
Lawyers for the detainees argued that the sudden reversal of Iraq’s repatriation policy, along with the subsequent ICE arrests, gave the Iraqis little chance to reopen their cases in immigration court. Goldsmith appeared to agree with that assessment, writing that the Iraqis likely didn’t make appeals earlier because doing so “served no immediately useful purpose,” reports mlive.com.
“Prior to the recent agreement with Iraq announced in March 2017, filing a motion to challenge enforcement of removal orders that stood no reasonable chance of being enforced in the foreseeable future would have been a purely academic exercise,” Goldsmith wrote.
Goldsmith scheduled a hearing for Thursday to outline the next phase in the litigation.
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