ICE targets Iraqi immigrants for deportation with a “final order of removal” as representatives from Michigan fight for immigrant rights.
Featured photo by Louis Finkelman
Fighting its way through a thicket of legal challenges, the federal government has restarted its program of deporting vulnerable immigrants to Iraq. In April, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals issued decisions that cleared the way for the deportations to resume.
The target population consists of immigrants in this country with a “final order of removal.” Many immigrants from Iraq had become naturalized U.S. citizens. Their children born here automatically became citizens. Some immigrants, though, who had gotten into trouble with the law, could not gain citizenship and so, in theory, they could be deported. In practice, however, because successive governments in Iraq refused to accept any significant number of deportees, Democratic and Republican administrations allowed them to remain in the United States. Hundreds of people, despite the threat of a “final order of removal,” have been working, starting businesses, paying taxes, raising families and contributing to their communities.
As Rep. Andy Levin (D.-Mich.) explains: “At one point, there were approximately 15,000 Iraqi citizens with standing deportation orders in the United States. Most had been in the United States for decades — the deportation orders were from the ’80s and ’90s, in general. With the beginning of the Trump administration, ICE began sweeping these people up for deportation to Iraq.”
In spring 2017, the Trump administration pressured Iraq to accept about 1,400 deportees in exchange for dropping Iraq from the list of nations under a travel ban. According to Levin, “The Iraqi nationals with standing deportation orders come from all Iraqi communities: Sunni, Shia, Yazidi and Chaldean,” in addition to members of smaller Christian groups. In the Detroit area, most belong to the Chaldean Catholic community.
Levin observes: “Many of these people do not speak Arabic; many have no family in Iraq or no community in Iraq. Yazidis and Chaldeans may come from villages that no longer exist.”
In summary, he says: “I have not found a single person who can explain why it is in the national interest of the United States to kick these people out.”
No Good News to Report
Levin recounts the circumstances of “a man deported to Iraq who had literally never been there. He was born in a refugee camp in Greece to Iraqi parents, so technically he was an Iraqi national. He has multiple problems: diabetes, bipolar disorder, drug addiction. Maybe he isn’t the most appealing person: He has problems. He was deported literally without being given a chance to make a phone call or pack a suitcase. He showed up in Iraq without any money and without papers showing his right to be there. He had to borrow a cell phone from another passenger in the airport to call his family in the States to let them know where he was.”
He is not the only one. Margo Schlanger, professor at the University of Michigan Law School, says, “There are a couple deportations to Iraq most weeks at this point. We continue to try to help individuals facing imminent deportation. For many of these folks, there are no legal maneuvers left. But others are successfully getting stays of removal.
“For most of the Iraqis who might be deported at some point, it remains available to try to reopen their cases and keep fighting. We’re continuing to try to facilitate that and to keep people out of detention while they fight.”
A member of the Chaldean community, attorney Nora Y. Hanna, says, “I wish we had good news to report but that is not the case. Everyone, at this point, is fighting individual cases in immigration court.”
Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, advises immigration attorneys how to protect targeted clients. “Given that we no longer have a stay of removal, we wanted to share information about how to explore immigration relief options in Canada,” she says.
Levin has been pressuring the executive branch to reconsider its policy and has introduced bipartisan legislation to protect these immigrants.
“I chose to lead in this effort for two reasons: I represent the Ninth District of Michigan, which has the largest Iraqi-born population of any district in America. I am simply representing my constituents. And this is a basic human rights issue. Human beings are entitled to seek asylum. We need to ‘love the stranger as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:34). We need to see each person as worthy of dignity and respect. It is part of a larger web of commitments [as Americans and as Jews].”