ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An American judge has ordered the release of over 200 Iraqis being detained by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) during deportation proceedings, giving the government 30 days to comply.
In a 59-page opinion, Judge Mark A. Goldsmith argued that the “[US] Federal Government cannot indefinitely detain foreign nationals while it seeks to repatriate them when there is no significant likelihood of repatriation in the reasonably foreseeable future.”
In the summer of 2017, more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals, among them Chaldeans, Kurds, and Sunnis received removal orders. Nearly 300 of them were initially arrested and detained by authorities in the US, sparking protests from Iraqi groups that initially supported the Trump administration.
Multiple stays by Judge Goldsmith halted the removal of the Iraqi nationals after Immigration rights groups said federal authorities were ignoring the risks of deportation for some of those who might have previously faced persecution in Iraq. Many were released on bond after a January 2018 ruling by Goldsmith but ICE, however, kept some 110 Iraqi and Kurdish immigrants in custody for over a year despite dozens going on a hunger strike in protest.
The opinion also included warnings that sanctions would be imposed on the US government for “failing to comply with court orders, submitting demonstrably false declarations of Government officials, and otherwise violating its litigation obligations.”
Indeed, in August 2018, days after a Judge Goldsmith determined there is evidence to suggest ICE agents had been threatening Iraqi detainees at a Michigan jail and pressuring them to agree to deportations, Kurdistan 24 learned that the whereabouts of an Iraqi man sent to Baghdad were unknown.
“Today’s decision is about accountability,” said senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Miriam Aukerman. “ICE thought it could get away with lying to a federal judge. ICE thought it could get away with using indefinite detention to coerce Iraqis to accept deportation despite the dangers they face in Iraq. Today, Judge Goldsmith made it clear that ICE is not above the law.”
Judge Goldsmith has given the government until Dec. 20 to release the roughly 110 Iraqis currently being detained, allowing for the Chaldeans in custody to return to their families in time for the Christmas holidays.
“We are delighted that families who have been separated for so long will finally be reunited,” said Kim Scott, an attorney at Miller Canfield who also represents the detainees. “As a result of today’s order, many of those who were unjustly detained will be home with their families for the holidays.”
Daniel Smith, an Iraq-based human rights researcher who has testified in several of the deportation hearings, told Kurdistan 24, “many of these Iraqis would be in grave danger, should they be returned to Iraq, for any number of reasons.”
“All of them that have deportation orders will still have to face a judge at a hearing, but at least they may now go home to their families, instead of spending another year in a federal prison.”