A U.S. judge in Detroit has halted the deportation of nearly 1,500 Iraqis, many of them Christians, pending full consideration of their cases in immigration court.
Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote late Tuesday that the Iraqis would face the "substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution" if sent back to Iraq before their deportation cases can be heard in court.
The case initially involved 100 Chaldean Catholics who were rounded up last month in the area around Detroit, Michigan, because they had U.S. criminal records. The case was expanded to include other Christians, Iraqi Kurds and additional Iraqi asylum-seekers who had committed various crimes, some of them serious offenses, while in the U.S.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which argued in favor of suspending the deportations, welcomed Tuesday's ruling and said it averted the possibility that individual Iraqis could be physically deported before they were awarded due process in court.
Judge Goldsmith's order maintained an earlier one suspending deportations until July 24, and also set another hearing for Thursday to consider other details.
Nora Youkhana of the CODE Legal Aid clinic in Detroit, co-counsel for the Iraqis in the case, told VOA Tuesday night that Goldsmith's injunction could be extended beyond July 24.
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. The U.S. Justice Department has contended federal district courts do not have the authority to countermand deportation orders for the Iraqis in this case, but Goldsmith's 24-page opinion asserted his court's jurisdiction in the case.
Deportation loomed for the nearly 1,500 Iraqis in this case after the Iraqi government agreed in March to begin accepting deportees from the United States, part of a deal that prompted the Trump administration to revise an earlier travel ban and exempt Iraq from the list of nations whose citizens would, in many cases, be barred from entering the U.S.
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.
Aline Barros contributed to this report.