US & Canada

US deportations of Iraqis halted by Michigan judge

Protesters outside a federal court before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Protesters rally outside a federal court hearing in Michigan over the removal of some Iraqi nationals

A federal court in Michigan has blocked the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqis living in the US who have been targeted in recent immigration raids.

US District Judge Mark Goldsmith expanded an order he issued last week, initially halting the removal of 114 Iraqi nationals from the Detroit area.

He sided with immigration advocates who argue the detainees face persecution or death if returned to Iraq.

The move comes as the US Supreme Court reinstated parts of a US travel ban.

Judge Goldsmith ruled in favour of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said those being deported - many of whom are Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims or Iraqi Kurds - faced physical danger in Iraq.

"Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately," he wrote in a seven-page opinion and order.

The judge last Thursday ordered a hold in the deportation of Iraqis in Michigan for at least two weeks while he considered whether he had jurisdiction over the matter.

But on Monday he granted a request from ACLU lawyers to expand the order to apply to Iraqi nationals nationwide who face final orders of removal from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The decision applies to some 1,444 Iraqi immigrants who have been issued deportation orders for overstaying a visa, or due to a criminal conviction.

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But only 199 of those Iraqis were detained during recent immigration raids, federal prosecutors said in court on Monday.

Many of those detained had convictions for serious crimes like rape and kidnapping, according to ICE.

The decision gives those facing deportation at least until 10 July to find legal representation to appeal against the orders, according to the judge.

America's highest court on Monday partially lifted a block on President Donald Trump's temporary ban on travellers from six Muslim-majority countries and on refugees.

Iraq was removed from the list of countries after the government reached a deal with the White House in March.

More than 100 Iraqi nationals in Michigan were detained following Iraq's agreement with the Trump administration to accept deportees in exchange for removing the country from the travel ban.

Some of those affected by the sweeps came to the US as children and committed their crimes decades ago.

They had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents.