A district court judge on Thursday halted the deportation of more than 100 Iraqis, including many Chaldean Christians, who were recently picked up by immigration officers and detained.
“We are thankful and relieved that our clients will not be immediately sent to Iraq, where they face grave danger of persecution, torture or death,” Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan, which represented the Iraqi nationals, stated in response to the ruling.
On Sunday, June 11, U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement began picking up Iraqi nationals in the Detroit metropolitan area who had previous criminal records.
Ultimately, 114 Iraqis were picked up, some reportedly at their homes in front of their families and others in public places like restaurants. They were detained and informed of their immanent deportation.
Many of the detainees were Chaldean Christians, and members of the local Chaldean Church were dismayed at the arrests.
ICE stated that the detainees had criminal records and although they had entered the U.S. legally and had not yet become citizens, they were no longer eligible for full citizenship. Furthermore, they had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, although in some cases the orders were reportedly decades old.
Iraq had previously refused to accept the Chaldeans, “in some cases, for humanitarian reasons,” Thursday’s decision read.
However, they recently agreed to accept them as part of a deal with the U.S. that removed Iraq’s place on a list of countries where foreign nationals were barred from traveling to the U.S., except in special cases, as part of President Donald Trump’s immigration executive order.
Bishop Francis Kalabat of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle of Detroit insisted that many of those who were detained were responsible residents since they had served their time in prison, and that many of the crimes had been committed decades prior to the June 11 arrests.
Pleas to stay the deportations reportedly reached the highest levels of government. The ACLU represented the Chaldeans in court, filing a habeas corpus action petition on their behalf, while the Knights of Columbus and members of Congress wrote Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly.
Leading U.S. bishops also wrote Secretary Kelly, advocating for a stay on the deportations until Iraq could guarantee the safety of religious minorities.
“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” a letter by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Houston-Galveston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with Bishop Oscar Cantu of Las Cruces, chair of the U.S. bishops’ international justice and peace committee, and Bishop Joe Vasquez of Austin, chair of the bishops’ migration committee, stated.
“The persecution that the Christian and Chaldean Catholic community has faced in Iraq is well- documented,” they added. “The deportations to this same country, under such scrutiny for abuse and genocide of Christian and other minorities, seems to run counter to what is happening in other parts of our government.”
Lawyers for the detainees insisted that under the Convention Against Torture they should not be sent back to a country where they have a reasonable expectation of persecution.
Furthermore, since the detainees have already served their prison sentences for their previous crimes, “we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community,” the bishops continued.
This past week, Bishop Kalabat noted in a Facebook post that Chaldean Catholic Patriarch Louis Sako was also involved in the efforts to halt the deportations, and “spoke with an international Catholic organization that are in contact with Vice President Pence directly.”
Bishop Kalabat also said he had appealed to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder to pardon all those who had state felonies.
Then on June 22, Judge Goldsmith granted a two-week stay on the deportations of the Iraqi nationals “within the jurisdiction of the Detroit ICE Field Office with final orders of removal, who have been, or will be, arrested and detained by ICE.”
“In light of these complex jurisdictional issues, and the speed with which the Government is moving to remove Petitioners, it is necessary to stay Petitioners’ removal pending the Court’s determination regarding its jurisdiction,” Judge Goldsmith stated.
He also cited the threat of “irreparable harm” claimed by the detainees through the “significant chance of loss of life and lesser forms of persecution” if they were to be deported to Iraq, as well as “the public interest” in due process that their requests for relief be heard by a federal court before their deportation.
“The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, stated. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”
By Matt Hadro