CINCINNATI (CN) – The federal government argued Wednesday before the Sixth Circuit for the enforcement of deportation orders for over 100 Iraqi nationals who were released from detention facilities earlier this year.
Last June, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of a class of Iraqi nationals to challenge the imminent deportations of more than 100 immigrants arrested in Detroit.
The immigrants claimed their lives would be in danger if deported back to Iraq because of their religious beliefs. While many of the plaintiffs identify as Chaldean Christians, others belong to oppressed Muslim sects.
Although the majority of the former detainees have criminal convictions, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit granted the immigrants’ request for release in January, at least until deportation hearings could be conducted.
The government had argued, unsuccessfully, that the release of the immigrants would endanger the public or allow them to flee the country.
Judge Goldsmith ordered bond hearings to assuage the government’s concerns, and scolded it for its treatment of the detainees.
“Our legal tradition,” he wrote in his opinion, “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.”
Arguing on behalf of the government Wednesday, Justice Department attorney Scott Stewart told a Sixth Circuit panel that Judge Goldsmith’s findings “rest on serious errors of law.”
He argued that the Iraqi nationals circumvented the process by which orders of removal are resolved when they filed their suit at the district court level.
Stewart repeatedly cited the “robust” nature of the removal process and admitted that “some of the burdens are high,” but stressed to the court that the detainees failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.
U.S. Circuit Judge Helene White posed a hypothetical scenario in which a person would be removed to their country of origin, taken into custody, and never seen again, before asking the government’s attorney whether the court system could get involved in such a situation.
Stewart conceded that a federal appeals court could grant emergency relief in such a situation, but that such instances are rare.
The legal team for the Iraqi nationals split their argument between two attorneys, the first of which was Lee Gelernt with the ACLU.
Gelernt disputed that his clients could have navigated the normal administrative process and argued that if Judge Goldsmith had rejected their petitions, he would have been “signing their death warrants.”
The attorney praised the district court’s foresight, and reminded the Sixth Circuit panel that his clients were given two days’ notice before they were set to be removed from the country.
U.S. Circuit Judge Alice Batchelder interrupted, “It’s not like this was suddenly dropped out of the blue.”
U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey Sutton echoed his colleague’s sentiment, and asked why Gelernt’s clients had never attempted to reopen their removal proceedings.
Gelernt said that some of his clients “have been living here for decades … [and it] makes little sense for people to reopen because of changing country conditions [in Iraq].”
Attorney Margo Schlanger also argued on behalf of the Iraqi nationals, and said the expedited process that gave her clients just two days to defend themselves was prejudicial.
Schlanger explained that the process of submitting a motion to reconsider is burdensome and must be particularized to each immigrant, which made a two-day turnaround nearly impossible.
The attorney cited the success of numerous detainees who had their cases reopened following the stay granted by Judge Goldsmith.
“When they had time to access the immigration system,” she said, “they could win.”
“We’re not saying they should be released,” Schlanger concluded, “We’re saying they should have a chance to get bond.”
No timetable has been set for the Sixth Circuit’s decision.