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US Judge Rules Iraqi Detainees Get Chance at Release


FILE - Iraqis and supporters rally outside the Theodore Levin United States Courthouse in Detroit, Michigan, June 21, 2017.

Iraqi nationals under threat of deportation and currently in detention should have the opportunity to win their release, a U.S. District Court has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit, Michigan, ruled Tuesday that hundreds of Iraqi Chaldeans who have been held in detention centers around the country for at least six months should be given bond hearings.

Goldsmith ordered immigration judges to hold the hearings and release the detainees unless they are a public safety risk. Detainees who don't get a bond hearing must be released by February 2.

"Over time, as more detainees are held for six months, the same rules apply," CODE Legal Aid, an advocate for the detainees, wrote on Facebook.

"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 can show the detainee has acted in "bad faith."

Goldsmith also said his ruling applies only to the group of Iraqi Chaldeans and has no wider application.

FILE - The Chaldean Community Foundation serves Chaldean-Americans, but advocates say “everyone is welcome” in the center, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.
FILE - The Chaldean Community Foundation serves Chaldean-Americans, but advocates say “everyone is welcome” in the center, in Sterling Heights, Michigan, July 31, 2017.

Irreparable harm cited

In July, Goldsmith blocked the deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide to give them time to challenge their removal. Many are Christians who fear being tortured or killed if deported. The judge's ruling noted that many of the Iraqis — estimated at 247 — continue to be jailed in U.S. detention centers around the country, "the vast majority having spent six months or more in custody." Almost half are residents of Detroit.

"Many of these folks were on final order of removal for committing crimes in the 1980s or 1990s," Chaldean Community Foundation Martin Manna told VOA in August. "They came here legally at some point, but either had a misdemeanor or a felony, which put them on final order of removal."

Until recently, Iraq has refused to take back its nationals who are under deportation orders. The Iraqis had been released into their communities, where they had been supervised.

"According to Petitioners, they lived peaceably in their respective communities under the orders of supervision — a point the Government does not contest," Goldsmith said in his ruling.

Attorneys for the detainees also argued that prolonged detention had caused them irreparable harm. The judge did not disagree, citing testimony from various detained Iraqis.

"Recently, I was forced to close my auto shop business and now face a real possibility of losing it forever because I cannot continue running it while I am detained," Atheer Ali said.

"Our son is scheduled to attend college next year but as of now, we cannot afford to even pay the minimum deposit for his tuition," according to Usama Hamama.

"[I]t took two months for me to receive medical treatment after my transfer to Chippewa County, Michigan," Habil Nissan said.

FILE - Family members of detainees line up to enter the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, June 21, 2017.
FILE - Family members of detainees line up to enter the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, June 21, 2017.

Agreement with Iraq

The U.S. government argued in court that the Iraqis should be kept in detention because "removal is reasonably foreseeable."

Goldsmith agreed with that statement, but said it is anything but clear that Iraq will repatriate all of the 1,400 Iraqis with deportation orders, citing a declaration from Michael Bernacke, acting assistant deputy assistant director for Department of Homeland Security's removal management division.

"In his declaration, Bernacke states that the agreement between the United States and Iraq is not memorialized in writing, but is instead the product of ongoing negotiations," Goldsmith wrote, adding, "Bernacke also states that the agreement does not contemplate any numeric limitation on the number of removals."

Since Goldsmith's July ruling, he writes that 164 Iraqis have filed motions to have their cases heard in immigration court.

"Seventy-four have been granted, 11 have been finally denied, and 79 are pending. Approximately 10 of the 74 grantees have had their cases adjudicated to the merits, with each one resulting in grants of relief or protection."

The government has argued that Goldsmith is exceeding his authority and should leave deportation disputes to immigration courts. His earlier decisions are being appealed.

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    Aline Barros

    Aline Barros is an immigration reporter for VOA’s News Center in Washington, D.C. Before joining VOA in 2016, Aline worked for the Gazette Newspapers and Channel 21 Montgomery Community Media, both in Montgomery County, Md. She has been published by the Washington Post, G1 Portal Brazilian News, and Fox News Latino. Aline holds a broadcast journalism degree from University of Maryland. Follow her @AlineBarros2.

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