A daughter of an Iraqi immigrant detained recalls when ICE agents showed up at her home in Sterling Heights on June 11 to arrest him. Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
DETROIT — A judge ruled Tuesday that the federal U.S. District Court has jurisdiction in the case of 199 Iraqi immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement last month that sparked outrage from Iraqi-American Christians.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote that if deported, the Iraqi immigrants would face "substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court." Denying them a chance to have their case heard in federal court would violate their constitutional rights, he said.
The ruling was praised by advocates for the Iraqi immigrants. Up to 1,144 Iraqi immigrants nationwide who are facing final orders of deportation could be affected in this case.
"This is a major relief for all 114 detainees from metro Detroit and all those affected nationally," said attorney Clarence Dass, who represents 25 of the Iraqis in ICE custody. "With the federal court having jurisdiction, we have the chance to prove the grave reality these individuals will face if deported to Iraq. In the end, our hope is that it will result in a permanent stay."
Last week, Goldsmith had extended a stay he issued June 27, saying the Iraqis could not be deported until at least July 24. Last month, the ACLU of Michigan, Michigan Immigrants Rights Center, and Code Legal Aid of Madison Heights (Mich.) had filed a lawsuit asking the court to intervene and block their deportation. They said that a majority of the Iraqis are Christian and would be persecuted in Iraq.
The Iraqis have criminal backgrounds, ranging from convictions of marijuana possession to homicide. ICE has said they are security threats and that the agency is enforcing the law under an agreement the U.S. and Iraqi governments agreed to earlier this year to deport them.
ICE has argued that theses cases should be heard in immigration courts, not in federal U.S. District Court.
In his ruling Tuesday, Goldsmith wrote that the Iraqi "petitioners are correct that extraordinary circumstances exist that will likely render their habeas claims meaningless, unless this Court intervenes to stay their deportation while review of their removal orders proceeds before the immigration courts and the courts of appeals.
"This Court concludes that to enforce the Congressional mandate that district courts lack jurisdiction — despite the compelling context of this case — would expose Petitioners to the substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court. That would effectively suspend the writ of habeas corpus, which the Constitution prohibits."
Goldsmith set Thursday for the next court hearing, asking both sides to email their arguments.
Attorneys for the Iraqi immigrants also have been trying to get relief by filing motions in local criminal and immigration courts. Some Iraqi immigrants detained by ICE are also asking Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to pardon their criminal convictions.
Follow Niraj Warikoo on Twitter: @nwarikoo