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US judge suspends deportation of Iraqis nationwide

Judge says Iraqi immigrants face 'grave consequences' that outweigh the government's interest in deporting them immediately
Protesters outside the federal court in Detroit before a hearing for Iraqi nationals facing deportation, 21 June (Reuters)

DETROIT, United States - A federal judge halted on Tuesday the deportation of Iraqis across the United States after a legal challenge by immigration advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union arguing that immigrant detainees face “persecution, torture, and death” if they are sent back to Iraq.

Last week, Judge Mark Goldsmith granted the ACLU’s motion to suspend deportations in the Detroit area, where more than 114 Iraqis, mostly Christians, had been arrested earlier this month. The rights group successfully pushed to expand the stay on deportations nationwide.

The judge’s decision shields more than 1,400 Iraqis from deportation, giving them time to individually dispute the orders of removal against them.

At a hearing on Monday, Margo Schlanger, a lawyer for immigration advocates, told Goldsmith that Iraqi immigrants are being moved frequently between detention centres, making it difficult for them to acquire legal representation to challenge the government. She argued that the detainees are being “rushed to judgement without due process”.

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After the court session, Schlanger told Middle East Eye that a nationwide stay on deportations would send a message to the government against hurrying to remove people from the country without giving them a chance to argue their case.

Iraqis have become the target of raids by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after Baghdad agreed to start taking deportees from the United States as part of a deal with the White House that removed Iraq from President Donald Trump’s second “Muslim ban”.

The arrests caused an outcry among activists who say that sending Iraqi immigrants from ethnic and religious minorities to the war-torn country is a death sentence. Most detainees have entered the US legally but have committed crimes that violated their visas. According to lawyers, most of the offences are non-violent and took place years ago.

Advocates say Iraqi immigrants in ICE’s crosshairs have “paid their debt to society” and are leading normal lives after losing all ties to their home country.

ICE has defended the crackdown, reiterating the professionalism of its agents and saying that the raids aim to protect public safety and national security.

On Monday, a government representative told the judge that the transfer of detainees does not affect immigrants’ pursuit of legal remedies to their situation, accusing the ACLU of forestalling “valid and lawful” deportations.

In his decision to suspend deportations for Iraqis across the US, Goldsmith cited the “grave consequences” that they face. “Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately,” he wrote.  

The ACLU welcomed the decision.

“In its rush to deport as many immigrants as possible, ICE is putting hundreds of individuals who have lived in this country for decades in grave danger of being persecuted or killed,” said Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan in a statement. “For many families across the United States, this ruling is like a stay in a death penalty case.”

Goldsmith’s decision comes a day after the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate parts of the “Muslim ban,” which had been blocked by lower courts.