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Judge temporarily halts order to deport Iraqi Christians

SAFIN HAMED / AFP

Iraqi Christians, who fled the violence in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, attend a mass celebrating the coronation of the Virgin Mary, on May 31, 2015 in Arbil, the capital of the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED / AFP / SAFIN HAMED

John Burger - published on 06/24/17 - updated on 06/24/17

Court recognizes potential for physical harm if immigrants are returned to Iraq

Potential physical harm “far outweighs” any interest the U.S. government might have in the immediate deportation of a large group of Iraqi Christians, most of whom have been living in the Detroit area for years, a federal judge said Friday.

US District Judge Mark Goldsmith put a two-week hold on the deportation of the group until he can clarify whether his court has jurisdiction in the case. The government has argued that the immigrants’ case must be adjudicated in an immigration court, not a federal court.

But the American Civil Liberties Union said they might be deported before an immigration judge can consider their requests to stay.

Goldsmith ruled two days after hearing oral arguments and considering a brief submitted by the American Civil Liberties Union of Detroit. The brief argued that the potential deportees have a good chance of facing severe persecution returning to Iraq, as they are religious minorities and have lived for so long in the U.S. that that would be walking targets in Iraqi society.

The Catholic Herald, combining reports from AP and Catholic News Service, said that most of the 114 Iraqis are Chaldean Christians, but some are Shiite Muslims and converts to Christianity. They were arrested on or about June 11 and the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said all have criminal convictions. Advocates argue that they have served their sentences, have become good members of the community, and pose no threat to US public safety:

The detainees include Louis Akrawi, who served more than 20 years in Michigan prisons for second-degree murder. He was accused of arranging a shooting that killed an innocent bystander in 1993. “He’s 69 years old, he has two artificial knees, and he needs surgery on both eyes. Sending him back to Iraq is unfair,” his son, Victor Akrawi, told the Detroit News.

The ACLU welcomed the temporary stay. “The court took a life-saving action by blocking our clients from being immediately sent back to Iraq,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said in a release. “They should have a chance to show that their lives are in jeopardy if forced to return.”

The report added:

Besides the 114 arrested in the Detroit area, 85 other Iraqi nationals were arrested elsewhere in the country, according to ICE. As of April 17, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal from the US. Eight have already been returned to Iraq.

Tags:
Christians in the Middle East
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