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Federal Judge Temporarily Blocks Deportation Of 1,400 Iraqis Nationwide

A federal judge in Michigan has temporarily barred U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement from deporting a group of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals for at least two weeks, expanding an order that initially applied only to those in the Detroit area.

The Iraqis covered by the injunction have been convicted of crimes in the U.S. — in some cases, decades ago. Since then, they've been allowed to remain in their communities under supervision. They face deportation because Iraq recently agreed to issue travel documents for their repatriation — but the Iraqis say they need a chance to show why they should be allowed to stay in the U.S.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled late Monday that the Iraqis at risk of being deported from the U.S. could face "grave consequences" if they're forced to return to their native country — and that the potential for irreparable harm outweighs the government's interest in their immediate removal.

Goldsmith, who was named to the bench by President Barack Obama in 2010, added, "the public interest is served by assuring that habeas rights are not lost before this Court can assess whether it has jurisdiction in this case."

"Iraqis nationals not just in Detroit but all across the U.S. are at risk of torture and death if deported back to Iraq," said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project. "The court did the right thing to ensure everyone is protected and has a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return."

The plaintiffs say they're being denied due process. They also invoke laws on providing asylum for refugees and preventing deportation of foreign nationals to a country where they could face torture.

Last week, Goldsmith granted a temporary restraining order to the more than 100 Iraqis who were arrested by ICE agents on June 11. The ACLU, which is representing the plaintiffs, asked for the order to be expanded to cover all Iraqis in the same situation.

As member station Michigan Public Radio reports, "Goldsmith agreed to do that. He rejected the government's argument that he doesn't have nationwide jurisdiction over immigration detentions, citing the "extraordinary circumstances" of the case.

The reason some Iraqis who've lived in the U.S. for decades now face an increased risk of deportation can be traced to President Trump's efforts to ban travel from a number of Muslim-majority countries. Trump's initial executive order included Iraq, an ally, along with countries the U.S. has accused of supporting terrorism, such as Iran and Syria.

Iraq was not happy at being included on the travel ban — and the president's revised order, issued in March, noted that since the first order was issued, Iraqi leaders had taken steps "to enhance travel documentation, information sharing, and the return of Iraqi nationals subject to final orders of removal."

Those orders of removal are what's behind the current deportation battle. As Michigan Public Radio reports, "Iraq agreed to start accepting deportees from the U.S. — something it had refused to do for many years."

There are about 175,000 Iraqis in metro Detroit, MPR says. Those at risk of deportation include hundreds of ethnic Chaldean Catholics who fear intense persecution if they're forced to return to Iraq. A Kurdish family who fled Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq in the 1990s expressed similar fears, and worried about possible retribution for having worked with the U.S. government.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.