Oralandar Brand-Williams and Sarah Rahal,
Detroit — An ACLU attorney told a federal judge Thursday that some of the Iraqi detainees swept up in immigration raids this summer are being coerced into signing legal paperwork that would automatically send them back to Iraq.
ACLU attorney Mariam Aukerman told U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in a status conference on the case of about 1,400 detained Iraqi nationals that some of the detainees are being forced into giving up their legal rights by Immigration and Customs Enforcement guards at detention facilities.
“We’re very concerned about coercion,” said Aukerman. “ICE guards are telling people if you don’t sign this form you are going to be in detention for a year and a half.”
Some were sent to the federal detention center in Youngstown, Ohio. Others where sent across the country to other states including Colorado and Arizona.
Aukerman said she wants the U.S. government to share information on which detainees are represented by attorneys, and what detainees need lawyers so they can be assisted with their cases and know their legal rights and what forms they are signing.
Aukerman also told Goldsmith more information needs to be shared with the ACLU of Michigan lawyers about the status of detainees and their possible removal from the United States. Aukerman said she has been told Iraq doesn’t want all the detainees back, and so there is the question of what to do with those who aren’t able to enter the Middle Eastern nation.
U.S. Department of Justice attorney William Silvis said some detainees, especially those without attorneys, have shown an interest in leaving for Iraq.
“Some people have approached detention officers and expressed their decision to leave,” Silvis said Thursday. He asked the judge to allow the government to create a form to allow those detainees not represented by an attorney already to be allowed to sign paperwork to leave the country.
A class action lawsuit is being sought in the case. Silvis said the U.S. government is “contemplating” a motion to dismiss the case. Goldsmith said he would take up the motion to dismiss before the motion to certify a class-action suit.
In documents filed Wednesday, some detainees said guards in their detention centers referred to them with racial slurs, called them “terrorists” and “singled us Iraqis out for negative and racist treatment.”
“We feel singled out,” a detainee is quoted in the court filing. “We don’t feel safe.”
They also said food and water were withheld.
“I believe ICE guards are trying to intimate us Iraqi detainees out of fighting immigration cases,” said one detainee.
The judge ordered both sides to meet with him for another update in a telephone conference at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
In late July, the judge issued a ruling that temporarily halted the deportation of hundreds of Iraqi nationals. The preliminary injunction covering 1,400 Iraqi nationals, including about 200 arrested and detained in June, is intended to give them more time to seek legal protection from being deported to Iraq, the homeland many left when they were youngsters.
Family members and supporters say detainees would face religious persecution and even death as Christians, a religious minority, returning to Iraq.
About 75 relatives and community members rallied outside the federal courthouse during the status conference.
Sisters Ashley and Ashourina Slewo said their father, Warda Slewo, was picked up on June 11 at his home in Madison Heights. His daughters said Slewo, a native of Iraq, served his time in jail and five years of probation.
“My dad is a U.S. Army veteran. He betrayed his country of origin and would definitely be in danger if he was sent back,” Ashourina Slewo said. “He’s disabled and sick. He has depression and PTSD. He slipped and hurt his hip at the detention center but they can’t do anything but give him ibuprofen.
“You can’t live in Michigan and not know someone in the Chaldean community, whether they are at your church, work or own the liquor store down the street. While the rallies are getting smaller, there should be people who are not in the Chaldean community here, too because of the contributions made by Chaldeans.”
She said she is gathering letters in support of her father during the review of his case.
Tamara Kinaia, a criminal defense paralegal with Code Legal Aid, spoke at the rally about Ray, a man being held. She said he was deported in April 2000 for marijuana use and while he was in Iraq, he assisted the U.S. government and was granted a pardon to return in 2009.
“No one deserves this,” Kinaia said. “I’ll be speaking about Ray, but his story says it all. If he were to return, he would be killed for his loyalty to the U.S.”