DETROIT (AP) — The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action lawsuit Thursday seeking to stop the government from deporting more than 100 Iraqi nationals who were rounded up in raids last weekend.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in Detroit against U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement seeks a temporary stay of any deportations, which the ACLU fears could begin Friday. The ACLU also requested a Friday hearing about the matter.
The lawsuit claims it would be illegal to deport the detainees without giving them a chance to prove they could face torture or death if returned to Iraq.
"Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties," Kary Moss, executive director for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement. "We are hoping that the courts will recognize the extreme danger that deportation to Iraq would pose for these individuals. Our immigration policy shouldn't amount to a death sentence for anyone."
The ACLU says most of the 114 Iraqis arrested in last weekend's Detroit-area raids are Chaldean Christians, but that there are also some Shiite Muslims and Christian converts. It says they all fear violent retribution, if deported.
Many of the arrestees have been in the U.S. for decades and were arrested for "minor offenses," according to the ACLU. Most have been fully compliant with their conditions of supervision and have had no further run-ins with the law, it says.
For example, plaintiff Jihan Asker, a 41-year-old Chaldean mother of three who has spent much of her life near Warren since arriving in the U.S. at age 5, was convicted on a misdemeanor fraud charge in 2003 that was dismissed following probation, the lawsuit states. Since then, she has complied fully with her order of supervision and encountered no other legal troubles.
Asker is eligible to seek lawful, permanent U.S. residency under a petition by a daughter who is a U.S. citizen, the ACLU contends.
ICE has said that all of those arrested had criminal convictions, including for murder, rape, assault, burglary, weapons violations and drug trafficking, and were ordered deported by an immigration judge after "full and fair" proceedings. It has declined to release the names of those it detained.
Most are being held at a detention facility in Youngstown, Ohio, though some were taken to facilities in suburban Detroit and southern Michigan.
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 U.S. Eight already have been removed to Iraq.
An ICE spokesman said the agency doesn't comment on pending litigation.
Six U.S. representatives from Michigan on Thursday wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly requesting a copy of the government's repatriation agreement with Iraq and for information about any safety measures planned for the arrested Iraqi nationals.
"Until we in Congress can review all aspects of the agreement reached with Iraq, and the referenced safety measures, we urge you to hold off removal of these individuals to Iraq," they wrote.
The Detroit area has one of the largest Chaldean communities in the U.S. Longtime demographer Kurt Metzger said a community survey estimated there were roughly 120,000 Chaldeans in and around Detroit.