US Appeals Court Ruling Renews Iraqi Christians’ Fears of Deportation

Image: Tanya Moutzalias / The Flint Journal-MLive.com via AP)
Hundreds of Chaldeans rally against the ICE raids in 2017.

The Iraqi Christian at the center of a class-action suit challenging the detention of fellow Iraqi nationals in the Detroit area was granted a major victory in court Tuesday and will be allowed to stay in the US and become a citizen.

The decision in favor of Sam Hamama comes days after a legal setback for hundreds of others who had been detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and released more than a year ago so they could litigate their individual cases.

Last Friday, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the classwide decision freeing the Iraqis from detention, potentially leading to redetainment and a renewed threat of deportation.

“The whole point of the federal litigation was to give people time to fight their individual immigration cases,” Margo Schlanger, one of the lead counsels in thecase, told CT. “Hundreds of people assisted by the class action have done that, and, while some have lost, lots of them have won. For many others, the individual immigration cases are still pending. So Sam’s victory is one of many, we’re happy to say.”

In 2017, more than 1,400 Iraqis living in the United States, most of whom had either overstayed visas or have criminal convictions, were living under “final removal orders” that made them targets for deportation. Hundreds of these Iraqi nationals were rounded up in ICE raids and held in detention facilities meant to house them until they could be deported.

The move was part of a policy shift spurred by the Trump administration’s travel ban, as Iraq agreed to begin accepting deportees in exchange for being removed from the list of banned countries.

But the process faced a major obstacle. America has committed itself to not repatriate anyone into circumstances of likely persecution or torture. Supporters of the detained Iraqis have argued Iraq presents just such dangerous circumstances.

Due to violence and the ongoing persecution of Christians in Iraq (more than 300 of the detained Iraqis are Chaldean Christians), the prospect of deportations was met with enormous pushback. The dilemma—detaining deportees for a country too dangerous to accept them—meant the Iraqis were held in prolonged detention, with no end in sight.

By the end of 2018, as part of the flagship Iraqi deportation case Hamama v. Adducci, district court judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that “the 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.”

As a result, most of the Iraqis represented in the Hamama case were released and reunited with their families, some of them having spent nearly a year and a half behind bars.

On Friday, the Court of Appeals claimed, “The district court had no jurisdiction to do what it did.”

The release ruling was overturned in a 2–1 decision citing detentions statutes. “Those are the statutes covered by the jurisdictional bar, and the [district] court’s injunction prevented those statutes from operating, whether with respect to mandatory or permissive detentions,” stated the Court of Appeals’ opinion. “What was true the first time around remains true today.”

While the opinion doesn’t make a decision on deportations—that depends on individual immigration cases and the Iraqi government—it does put Iraqis at risk of additional detentions. The ruling could be implemented as soon as February 24.

“We strongly disagree with the court of appeals decision,” said American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) senior staff attorney Miriam Aukerman. “It was not a mistake that your family was together this past year, and we will do everything in our power to make sure that your family isn’t torn apart all over again in 2020.”

Lawyers representing the Iraqi nationals have a variety of options for responding to the decision, including a rehearing, and individual immigraiton cases continue to move ahead.

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Source: Christianity Today