DETROIT (CN) – Civil rights groups have asked a federal judge in Michigan to order the release of Iraqi nationals who say they are being unlawfully detained and face persecution and death if they are forced to return to the Middle East.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents rounded up more than 100 Iraqi nationals in Detroit this summer, striking fear in a community of Chaldean Christians that the Trump administration had previously suggested it would protect from persecution in the Middle East.
Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of detainees sued Detroit’s ICE director in June, claiming the administration was trying to send them back to a country where they faced torture and death because of their religious beliefs.
In July, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith barred the government from deporting the plaintiffs, giving them three months to file motions to reopen their cases in immigration courts.
Now, the ACLU of Michigan wants Judge Goldsmith to release them, arguing that ICE has placed some of the Iraqis in indefinite detention. It might be years before the courts resolve their cases and some of the detainees have lived in the U.S. for decades, the ACLU said in a motion for preliminary injunction filed Tuesday in Detroit federal court.
“The Trump administration is shamefully prolonging the agony of these Iraqi families in the hopes that they voluntarily give up their immigration cases. It’s time for the court to once again step in and say enough,” Judy Rabinovitz, a deputy director with ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on the injunction motion.
Vice President Mike Pence has vowed to protect Christians in the Middle East from persecution in speeches to religious leaders. ICE had arrested people with deportation orders or pending criminal charges or convictions, but civil rights groups said the move was unfair given they face persecution if deported.
Judge Goldsmith’s injunction against deportation stays in effect for each Iraqi detainee until they have exhausted their legal remedies, according to the ACLU. Eighty-seven percent of the detainees’ cases have been reopened and the 10 cases the immigration courts have adjudicated has resulted in a favorable ruling for the plaintiffs, the group says.
“Yet almost all remain incarcerated,” the ACLU said in Tuesday’s injunction motion. “Although it will soon be five months since the June ICE raids, and although it is clear that petitioners and class members face the prospect of many more months or years of detention as they fight their immigration cases, and although petitioners and class members have demonstrated through past compliance with orders of supervision that they are not a danger or flight risk, respondents insist on keeping them incarcerated.”
In a news release, the ACLU said ICE cannot hold a detainee indefinitely unless authorities show that they are likely to flee or are a danger to the community. The civil rights group says the agency lacks that justification for those swept up in the Detroit raid.
Authorities are required to review the cases of detainees with removal orders who are held for more than 90 days. But the ACLU claims ICE has served the Iraqis with boilerplate denials and extended their detentions. Some detainees have received no review at all, the group says.
The ACLU’s federal lawsuit was filed against Rebecca Adducci, director of the Detroit ICE District, the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. attorney general.
CODE Legal Aid, Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, International Refugee Assistance Project, and the law firm Miller Canfield Paddock & Stone joined the ACLU in its Nov. 7 filing.