A federal judge has extended a stay of deportation for Iraqi nationals, blocking their removal for another two weeks.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit on Thursday halted deportations nationwide until July 24, saying he needs more time to decide whether he has jurisdiction in the case. The judge had issued an injunction against Iraqi deportations on June 22; that stay was set to expire Monday.
In his opinion, Goldsmith wrote that he found "good cause" to extend the stay.
"In light of the complexity of the issue involved and the time necessary to prepare an opinion, along with the essentially unchanged facts," Goldsmith wrote, "the Court is faced with the same circumstances that were extant when the stays were entered."
Besides determining whether his court has jurisdiction in the case, Goldsmith is also taking into consideration the possibility that the Iraqis would be physically harmed if they were sent back to Iraq.
Most of the Iraqis are Chaldean Christians and some are Shi'ite Muslims; both groups face persecution in their native Iraq.
The lawsuit invokes the international treaty against torture and could have far-reaching consequences for thousands of other foreign nationals.
New repatriation agreement
The Iraqis, who have all been accused of or convicted of various crimes, are not appealing their deportation orders per se, but are asking for the right to contest those orders in court on the grounds that returning to Iraq would place them in mortal danger.
Up until very recently, Iraq would not accept citizens who were deported by the U.S. That changed after the administration of President Donald Trump issued its first order restricting travel in January. The order banned travel from seven countries, including Iraq.
Rather than be included in the travel order, Iraq negotiated a repatriation agreement with the U.S. government and when the revised order was issued, Iraq was no longer on the list.
Since then, immigration agents have been rounding up Iraqi foreign nationals, who have committed crimes and consequently are under deportation orders.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official said in an email to VOA that the Iraqis who have been detained are part of "an effort to process the backlog of these individuals."
According to immigration officials, an estimated 14,000 Iraqi immigrants have final orders of removal.
Goldsmith is set to decide if he has jurisdiction in the case by July 24.