Hundreds of Iraqi nationals held for months under U.S. deportation orders will get a shot at freedom while they fight their removal, a judge said Tuesday.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered immigration judges to hold hearings and release the detainees unless they're a public safety risk. The order applies to people who have been held for at least six months.
The government must release detainees who don't get a bond hearing by Feb. 2.
"Our legal tradition rejects warehousing human beings while their legal rights are being determined, without an opportunity to persuade a judge that the norm of monitored freedom should be followed," Goldsmith said.
He made some exceptions, saying a detainee could remain locked up if the government provides specific objections.
In July, Goldsmith blocked the deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals to give them time to challenge their removal. Many are Christians who fear being tortured or killed if deported. But nearly 300 still are jailed or in U.S. detention centers in about two dozen states.
The Trump administration wants them deported for crimes committed in the U.S. Some crimes were misdemeanors committed decades ago, while others were more serious.
The government has argued that Goldsmith is exceeding his authority and should leave deportation disputes to immigration courts. His earlier decisions are being appealed.