On June 11, 2017, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began, without any warning, arresting dozens of Iraqi nationals, many of them living in the metro-Detroit area. Most or all of these Iraqis are subject to final orders of removal (deportation); however, despite those orders, they have been living in the United States for years, and many have US-citizen children and families. ICE has indicated the arrests stem from the Iraqi government’s newfound willingness to take back these would-be deportees. Additionally, ICE transferred many of the detainees to a facility in Youngstown, Ohio; away from their families — and their attorneys.
Only four days later, on June 15, 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a class-action Habeas Corpus Petition in the Federal District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, arguing that these Iraqi nationals are entitled to hearings on the changed country conditions in Iraq during the years intervening their orders of removal and their proposed removal.((The case is Hamama v. Adducci, Eastern District of Michigan case no. 17-cv-11910. The ACLU provides documents and additional information on their website.)) Many of the detainees are Chaldean Christians, and would be subject to likely persecution if removed to Iraq. Additionally, even the Muslim detainees, if removed, would likely be seen as ‘Westernized’ or potentially as American collaborators, and this may subject them to similar persecution. Additionally, for those detainees being removed due to criminal convictions, there have been changes in the way certain criminal convictions are treated for immigration purposes, including which constitute “aggravated felonies”.
On July 24, 2017, the Court issued an injunction which restricted the government from enforcing final orders of removal for any Iraqi national whose final order of removal was entered on or before June 24, 2017. The class of persons affected by this Order comprises approximately 1,400 people (not all detained). The Court later issued an order requiring the release from detention of members of the class or requiring that a bond hearing be held by February 2, 2018.
The injunction puts the detainees in a difficult position despite temporarily preventing their removal. To prevent removal, each class member must file a Motion to Reopen (MTR) their removal proceeding, in which they will likely argue that the changed country conditions in Iraq could lead to their persecution (or is otherwise prevented pursuant to the UN Convention Against Torture (CAT)). The Christian class members appear to have an easier path — most Chaldean Christians’ applications for asylum have been granted in the recent past. The Muslim class members likely face a more difficult task in proving the likelihood of persecution or torture, as they are returning to a predominantly Muslim country. Of course, their persecution would be based not on their religion, but their relationship or perceived relationship to the United States.
At this point the fate of the class members is uncertain, but the ACLU is working with and briefing a number of attorneys in order to coordinate the filing of Motions to Reopen and Motions for Bond as the class members struggle to remain in the United States with their families.