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Families of Iraqi detainees ask ICE to return their loved ones for Christmas

Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio

Detroit’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement office was the target of a Christmas-themed protest on Sunday.

The protesters want hundreds of Iraqi nationals released immediately. Nearly 300 Iraqis with criminal records have been in federal detention for months, after most wereswept up in mass arreststhis spring.

All had criminal records. But most had their cases resolved by the justice system, some many years ago.

The protesters said they should be free to spend the holidays with their families while they go through lengthy immigration proceedings. A federal judge put a stop to plans to immediately deport the Iraqis, and the American Civil Liberties Union has asked for their release pending immigration hearings.

ICE officers picked up Caiden Nguyen’s father, Habib Al-Adily, in June. Caiden, 12, stood in front of Detroit’s ICE field office holding an Iraqi flag and discussed the toll separation has taken on his family.

“It’s been hard to hold up the house. Like clean up the house, do chores for mom, mom is at work … you know, it’s hard,” he said. “It’s very hard.”

Like many of the detained Iraqis, Al-Adily is being held at a federal detention center in Youngstown, Ohio. But many have been shuffled around the country, something advocates say has put them at a disadvantage in legal proceedings, as well as taking a toll on families.

Roda says her husband, who was arrested in late May, has been held in detention centers in Louisiana and Arizona as well as Ohio. She didn’t want to give her last name for fear it would affect her husband’s immigration case.

Roda says the couple’s three children don’t know what’s going on. “They’re too young to understand where their dad [is]. I can’t explain it,” she said. “And even if I take them, they can’t see him face to face.”

Her wish is that “every detainee would be released back home to celebrate Christmas with their family members. And it would be a great Christmas gift, for their children, for their moms, sisters, brothers … anybody.”

The ACLU is suing to stop the government from deporting the Iraqis. They say the detainees, many of whom are Christian, face possible torture, persecution or death if returned to Iraq, where many have few or no remaining ties.

U.S. District Mark Goldsmith issued a preliminary injunction to stop deportations while the larger case goes forward, saying the detainees should get a chance to make their case to stay in immigration court. The government is appealing, maintaining that federal district courts have no jurisdiction in immigration cases.

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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