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Detained Iraqi Immigrants Are Fighting ICE for Their Day in Court

The Trump administration is appealing earlier court decisions securing due process for the Iraqi nationals and preventing them from what advocates say is unlawful detention.
ICE officers.

ICE officers.

The American Civil Liberties Union will argue today against federal immigration authorities indefinitely detaining Iraqi nationals and attempting to deport them without trial.

A Cincinnati federal appeals court is set to hear the ACLU's arguments in the defense of about 100 Iraqi nationals detained in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids conducted in the Detroit area last June. At previous hearings, courts ruled in favor of the Iraqi nationals' constitutionally guaranteed rights to a fair trial, and against their indefinite detention. The Trump administration is appealing those rulings.

President Donald Trump's second executive order barring travelers from Muslim-majority countries removed Iraq from the list of affected countries in the first iteration. As part of the arrangements that redacted Iraq from the list, Baghdad agreed to accept deportees it had previously blocked Washington from repatriating, the text of the second travel ban says. Following the order, ICE raids across the country rounded up around 300 Iraqi nationals, including those in and around Detroit.

Many of the people apprehended in the raids are Iraqi ethnic and religious minorities, including Chaldean Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and adherents of Muslim-minority sects. "Once you start with religious bigotry in the Muslim ban, those consequences extend," Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney at the ACLU's Michigan branch, tells Pacific Standard. Indeed, in the aftermath of the first ban and the ensuing chaos at airports across the United States, many Jewish and Christian travelers entering the country faced difficulties with border authorities owing to their Middle Eastern origins.

Usama Jamil Hamama, the man for whom the case Hamama v. Adducci is named (Rebecca Adducci is the director of ICE's Detroit field office), is himself a Chaldean Christian who was detained in the ICE raids as he was preparing to take his daughter to soccer practice, Aukerman says. The initial filing by the ACLU against Hamama's and other Iraqi nationals' deportation proceedings argues that Hamama "fears removal to Iraq, especially because his status as a Chaldean makes him a target for violence and persecution," and that without a day in immigration court, the deportation might amount to a death sentence.

Aukerman adds that the U.S. Department of State continues to issue warnings against travel to Iraq, and the Trump administration has recognized the overwhelming dangers of life there. For Washington to deport Hamama and others like him to such an environment would amount to a reckless disregard for their lives, she says.

There are more than 1,400 total Iraqi nationals in the U.S. facing removal orders—often dating back to long ago as the 1980s and '90s—issued for a variety of reasons, including past convictions or visa overstays for example. Their futures will be decided as Hamama v. Adducci unfolds.

Shortly after the raids in June last year, the ACLU filed for a preliminary injunction that prevented the Iraqi nationals' repatriation without trial. The vast majority of the former detainees have successfully passed the initial phases of applications for U.S. immigration status, Aukerman says, indicating the validity of their claims to remain in the U.S.

Although the Iraqi nationals were allowed to remain in the country, their travails with the U.S. immigration system were far from over. "ICE said, 'Fine, you want to fight against being sent back to place where you could be killed, we are going to lock you up indefinitely.' And you can't do that. We don't ever put people behind bars without a reason," Aukerman says.

Detaining the Iraqi nationals during what are typically lengthy immigration petitions can mean months or years of what Aukerman reminds is a form of incarceration. "There's something so horrifying about the way in which detention is used to coerce people" out of lengthy immigration proceedings, she adds. At a separate hearing, a judge ruled in favor of the ACLU's argument that ICE should not indefinitely detain Iraqi nationals without trial and that the Iraqi nationals should receive individual bond hearings.

Wednesday's appeals against the rulings in favor of the Iraqi nationals takes place as the Supreme Court hears arguments against the third and final iteration of Trump's travel ban. The Iraqi nationals' case is one in a host of controversies emanating from not just the travel bans but a federal policy that rights advocates like Aukerman say is especially hostile toward immigrants.

The Iraqi nationals are but a fraction of the immigrants facing indefinite detention under the Trump administration. ICE has detained Vietnamese refugees residing in the U.S. as part of a long-standing agreement between Washington and Hanoi for removal. Hanoi has declined to accept the deported Vietnamese nationals, so they continue to languish in U.S. immigration detention facilities. Rights advocates charge that their indefinite detention is illegal. "A basic premise in immigration law is that the government should only detain immigrants to effectuate removal," Laboni Hoq, litigation director at AAAJ's Los Angeles branch, told Pacific Standard last month.

ICE—apparently empowered by what immigrant rights groups say is the White House's unprecedented hostility to immigrants—continues to engage in a host of other practices that rights advocates charge contravene both U.S. law and immigrants' basic civil liberties. In February, Pacific Standard reported that ICE was separating detained immigrants from their children. The exact scope of those separations remained unknown until a New York Times report revealed last week that immigration authorities had separated more than 700 children from their parents' care.

An ICE spokesman declined to respond to Pacific Standard's request for comment while litigation in Hamama v. Adducci is pending.

In the case of Hamama and other Iraqi nationals, the federal government is engaged in a push to actively deny them what their defenders like Aukerman remind are constitutionally guaranteed rights to a fair trial. Insofar as the case is about due process, Hamama v. Adducci is about maintaining the integrity of the U.S. justice system for all Americans. But for Hamama and people like him, Wednesday's trial is much less abstract.

"We can't sentence people to death without due process," Aukerman insists.