A federal judge in Detroit is ordering U.S. officials to release about a hundred Iraqis slated for deportation who have been in custody six months or more.
The judge says Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials lied to the court about why the government was keeping the Iraqis in custody.
Last year immigration officials detained about 300 Iraqis as part of a sweep to round up 1,400 who were under deportation orders. Some of the detainees had committed crimes and had already served time — though some of the “criminal” acts were, in fact, fairly minor offenses.
But the government ordered the Iraqis in question removed from the U.S., arguing they posed a threat to the public.
The government also said it had finally reached a deal with Iraq to take the detainees back, even though many of those in custody are Christians who could face torture or death if returned to their native home
But U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith says the government moved glacially-slow to provide proof Iraq was willing to accept the detainees in court.
And the records the U.S. eventually offered actually showed the opposite of what the government had asserted. Iraqi officials said they would only accept detainees who volunteered to return, not those who would be forcibly repatriated.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan had argued immigration officials could not keep the detainees indefinitely while it negotiated to see if they could go back to Iraq.
ACLU attorney Miriam Auckerman says immigration officials purposely lied to the court.
“ICE is using detention as a way to coerce people to give up their rights, to give up their cases, to stop fighting (deportation,)” she says.
In a scathing report, Goldsmith wrote that the government had made “demonstrably false” statements in an attempt to delay the court proceedings.
The judge ordered the government to release most of the detainees held in custody six months or longer by the end of the year.
Some of the Iraqis are already out on bond or fighting their own habeus corpus cases.
Goldsmith said the government could still challenge the release of specific detainees if it wished, and the judge would decide whether or not his order applied in those cases.