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The federal government could proceed with Iraqi deportations on Tuesday

Tracy Samilton
Michigan Radio

Advocates for Iraqis in the U.S. who are facing deportation held a press conference on Saturday.

They're urging the federal government to let Iraqis with final orders of deportation appeal to an immigration judge.

They say deportation could be a death sentence, especially for Chaldean Christians.

Democratic Congressman Andy Levin is spearheading the effort.

"If DHS and ICE do the humane and really American thing, a lot of them will win relief," says Levin. Levin wrote a letter to the agencies, signed by 19 of his Democratic and Republican colleagues, requesting that they abstain from "mass deportations," and allow each case to be heard individually in court.

U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has been trying to deport 1,400 Iraqis since June, 2017 who committed a range of crimes. The agency says some of the Iraqis committed violent crimes. But attorneys for the Iraqis say many commited minor infractions, including one Iraqi woman who was convicted of selling cigarettes without a license.

A federal appeals court said the government could proceed on Tuesday with the deportations, but only if Iraq agrees to accept them. Levin says senior Iraqi officials he's spoken with indicated they are getting pressured by the Trump administration to accept the deportees.

Sam Hamama is one of the lucky ones, so far. He was successful in getting an appeal hearing before an immigration judge. The hearing is scheduled for next year.

Hamama, a Chaldean Christian, says he doesn't deserve what could be a death sentence for what he did: threatening someone with an empty gun during a road rage incident when he was in his 20s.

"I have no idea where to go," says Hamama. "I have no family whatsoever back in Iraq. 45 years of my life have been in this country. Where am I going to go?"

Attorneys for the Iraqis say 400 of the original 1,400 have won hearings before an immigration judge in the nearly two years since the government first rounded them up in June, 2017, before a federal judge ordered them to release them last summer. 

Many were given permission to stay in the U.S. Some were deported. ACLU attorneys say they know of several families who raised money to smuggle their loved ones out of Iraq and into a safer country that would take them.

About a thousand Iraqis do not currently have immigration court hearings scheduled, and they are the ones at risk of being arrested starting Tuesday. ICE has not disclosed what it plans to do.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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