Hundreds of Iraqi nationals – including four who lived in Georgia – were stuck in limbo Monday afternoon, waiting to learn whether a federal judge in Detroit would continue blocking their deportations.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith was expected to rule Monday on a request from some civil and immigrant rights groups for an extension of a stay he issued earlier this month. The American Civil Liberties Union and the other groups are arguing the Iraqis would “face grave danger of persecution, torture and death” if they are sent back to their homeland.
Federal immigration authorities have rounded up nearly 200 Iraqi nationals across the country in recent weeks, including in Atlanta, Detroit and Nashville, prompting fears they will be deported to their Middle Eastern homeland amid deadly sectarian violence and fierce fighting to dislodge the Islamic State. Many of them are Kurds and Christians, who have long faced persecution in the Middle East. As of April 17, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with standing deportation orders.
“We are asking that these Iraqi nationals be given time to raise their claims, given the grave danger that they would be in if they were removed,” said Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Most of those arrested have convictions for serious crimes, including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, and weapons violations, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The agency is arguing against another stay in the case, saying such requests are supposed to be handled in federal immigration courts.
Acting ICE Director Thomas Homan issued a statement this month opposing the judge’s most recent stay.
“I am disappointed that the court's decision fails to take into account the robust and already-existing procedural process to address petitioners’ claims as well as the clear public safety threat posed by these aliens -- the vast majority of whom are convicted criminals,” he said.
Three Kurdish men who came from Iraq as asylees were arrested last month in Atlanta. All three were ordered deported by immigration judges after they were convicted of aggravated felonies, according to ICE. They have been moved from the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Ga., to the Florence Correctional Center in Arizona along with a fourth Iraqi national from Georgia, said one of the detainees, Rebwar Hassan of Norcross. Hassan said he is among about 100 Iraqis being held there.
Hassan, a Christian, said he provided intelligence about then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in the 1990s to an opposition group called the Iraqi National Congress and now fears he could be harmed if he is deported to his native country.
“Life is too dangerous there,” Hassan said.