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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 12 December 2018

US judge halts deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals

A US judge granted a preliminary injunction requested by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the immigrants would face persecution in Iraq because they are considered ethnic and religious minorities there

In this June 26, 2017 file photo, an Iraqi Muslim refugee who trained US troops going to Iraq and is now facing deportation is seeking sanctuary inside an Albuquerque church. AP / Russell Contreras
In this June 26, 2017 file photo, an Iraqi Muslim refugee who trained US troops going to Iraq and is now facing deportation is seeking sanctuary inside an Albuquerque church. AP / Russell Contreras

A federal judge in Michigan halted the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals from the US, the latest legal victory for the Iraqi nationals facing deportation in a closely watched case.

US District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted on Monday a preliminary injunction requested by lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, who argued the immigrants would face persecution in Iraq because they are considered ethnic and religious minorities there.

Judge Goldsmith said the injunction provides detainees time to challenge their removal in federal courts. He said many of them faced "a feverish search for legal assistance" after their deportation orders were unexpectedly resurrected by the US government after several years.

Judge Goldsmith wrote, in his 34-page opinion and order, that the extra time assures "that those who might be subjected to grave harm and possible death are not cast out of this country before having their day in court".

The decision effectively means no Iraqi nationals can be deported from the US for several months.

It was not immediately known whether Judge Goldsmith's ruling would be appealed by the US government. A representative for the US Attorney's Office in Detroit did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

There are 1,444 Iraqi nationals who have final deportation orders against them in the US, although only about 199 of them were detained in June as part of a nationwide sweep by immigration authorities.

The ACLU sued on June 15 to halt the deportations of the detainees. They argued the Iraqis could face persecution, torture, or death because many were Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds and that the groups were recognised as targets of ill-treatment in Iraq.

Those arrested by immigration authorities had outstanding deportation orders and many had been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from homicide to weapons and drug charges, the US government said.

Judge Goldsmith sided with the ACLU, expanding on June 26 an earlier stay which only protected 114 detainees from the Detroit area to the broader class of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide. Judge Goldsmith's Monday decision came hours before that injunction was set to expire.

The ACLU argued many Iraqi detainees have had difficulty obtaining critical government documents needed to file deportation order appeals, and also that the government has transferred many detainees to facilities in different parts of the country, separating them from their lawyers and families.

"The judge is giving them a realistic and meaningful opportunity to make their cases," ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman said after the decision.

The roundup of Iraqis in the Detroit area followed Iraq's agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from US president Donald Trump's revised temporary travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.

Some of those affected came to the US as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them.

That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.