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Appeals court decision throws Iraqi nationals back on possible path to deportation

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Michigan Radio

Iraqis with standing removal orders are no longer protected from deportation if an immigration court hasn’t heard their case, the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this week.

In 2017, Detroit U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith had made critical rulings that gave some protection to those Iraqis at risk of deportation.

Many of them (around 1,400 total) had old criminal records, but had served their time and hadn’t been deported because Iraq wouldn’t take them back. And many had been picked up in immigration enforcement raids across Metro Detroit in the spring and summer of that year.

In a case brought by the ACLU on the Iraqis’ behalf, Goldsmith stayed potential removals for those Iraqis unless they’d had a chance to plead their case in immigration court. He also ruled that those who didn’t get a bond hearing couldn’t be held in detention indefinitely.

But in December, a Sixth Circuit panel overturned those decisions,ruling Goldsmith didn’t have jurisdiction to intervene in immigration cases. By declining to hear further arguments in the case this week, the full court effectively put an end to it.

Margo Schlanger is a University of Michigan law professor and a cooperating ACLU attorney for the Iraqi plaintiffs in the case, Hamama v. Adducci. She said the Sixth Circuit overruled Goldsmith on jurisdictional grounds, and didn’t consider the argument at the heart of the case.

“They face persecution and torture and even murder if they are in Iraq,” said Goldsmith of the roughly 1400 plaintiffs, most of whom are Christians or other religious minorities. “It is not appropriate for the United States to be sending those people back.”

Now, “They will no longer be protected from removal while they seek to re-open their quite old cases and apply current law and current facts. They might be deported without having a chance to do that.”

But Schlanger says it’s unclear whether Iraq is even willing to take these Iraqi nationals back from the U.S. And she said Judge Goldsmith made another rulingprohibiting indefinite detentions that still stands despite the Sixth Circuit ruling.

“That order said that ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] had not come forward and shown the judge clearly enough that Iraq is actually willing to take mass deportations,” Schlanger said. “Hundreds of people got out of detention on that order. That order remains good law.”

Schlanger says those who have already re-opened their immigration cases, or have already won those cases, aren’t at immediate risk of deportation. They have either won the right to stay or to get their cases heard.

One of those “lucky ones” is Sam Hamama, the lead plaintiff in the case. Hamama, an Iraqi national with one criminal conviction from the 1980s, is out on bond and says he’s in line for temporary legal status until a scheduled court hearing in 2020. He plans to seek protection under an immigration rule that allows certain people with certain old criminal convictions to remain in the country.

As for the Sixth Circuit decision, he’s “very disappointed. Very disgusted. I don’t know what else to say,” Hamama said. “It’s going to break a lot of hearts. A lot of kids are going to be without fathers.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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