A federal judge in Detroit has stopped the potential deportation of hundreds of Iraqis with criminal records who were arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith on Monday granted a preliminary injunction request made by attorneys for the Iraqi nationals who had asked him to halt their deportation, saying they would be persecuted in Iraq.
The ruling means that 1,400 Iraqi nationals, including more than 200 arrested and detained last month, will have more time to seek legal protection from being sent back to Iraq.
Advocates say the detained Iraqis, many of them Christians, face persecution, torture and possibly death if forced to return to their native country, where Christians are a minority.
The deportation action is not connected to President Donald Trump's travel ban, which bars admission to the United States for many people from six Muslim-majority nations, but not Iraq.
Some of the Iraqis named in this case came to the United States as children and committed crimes decades ago, but previous attempts to deport them had failed because the Baghdad government declined to issue them travel documents.
In his decision, Goldsmith wrote that the case involved "extraordinary circumstances," noting that the Iraqis suddenly faced deportation after years of many of their cases being "dormant."
Goldsmith said the constitutional rights of the Iraqis were being violated, writing that "the writ of habeas corpus — the fundamental guarantor of liberty — must not be suspended."
"Their status as religious minorities place them at grave risk of torture and other forms of persecution at the hands of ISIS, other Sunni insurgencies and the various Shi'a militias," Goldsmith wrote, adding that their affiliation with the United States compounds their risk.