Deportations to Iraq stoke fear among immigrant families in Michigan

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Niraj Warikoo Detroit Free Press Community members attend a candle light vigil to remember Jimmy Al-Daoud Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, Thursday, August 15, 2019. Junfu Han,

Sixteen Iraqi nationals — half from metro Detroit — have been deported to Iraq since an April court decision allowed their removal from the U.S. The move has sparked anxiety for some immigrant families, heightened by the recent death in Baghdad of a diabetic deportee from Oakland County. This summer, several detained Iraqi nationals with criminal records have struggled to avoid deportation. Some have sliced off their GPS monitor tethers, others have tried to ground airplanes by causing verbal disruptions. In one case, a 31-year-old Iraqi national, Oliver Awshana of Muskegon, screamed on a flight last month as he was being deported to Iraq, causing the pilots to refuse to fly him to Turkey, said his Detroit attorney, Shanta Driver. Awshana is now in detention awaiting a court hearing. In another case, Ali Al-Sadoon, 34, an Iraqi refugee and father of six living in Redford, cut off his tether after he was told he would be deported in just a few days. Al-Sadoon moved to the U.S. as a child along with his parents; he was arrested at his home in Redford on the last Friday in July by Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agents. Others arrested in recent weeks include Wisam Hamana, 39, of Hazel Park, who has lived in the U.S. since he was 3. Hamana was convicted of charges involving a stolen vehicle and property. He cut off his tether and later was arrested by ICE agents at his girlfriend’s home, Driver said. Driver is representing a number of Iraqi-Americans who are desperately trying to find ways to stay in the U.S. after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in April ruled against Iraqi-Americans seeking to halt their deportations. “You have to do what is necessary to keep yourself alive,” Driver said. In the summer of 2017, ICE conducted roundups of Iraqi nationals with criminal convictions who had orders of removals by immigration judges; about 1,400 were detained, many of them in Michigan, and the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit to block their removals. “It’s a death sentence,” Driver said. “To be sent back to a country where you have no family, no relatives, no friends in, no knowledge of the customs of that country, no identification that could make it possible for you to get any sort of services, it’s a death sentence for every single person being put in that situation.” Ikval Marogi, right, of Warren and Elham Mona, center, of Sterling Heights listen to a speaker as families of Iraqi immigrants from metro Detroit who were detained by ICE gather outside of the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit on Thursday August 31, 2017. Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press ICE Director Matthew Albence told the Free Press on Friday in a statement that its agents are enforcing orders of removal already approved by judges and that they will prosecute any attempts to abscond from the law. Albence noted that the vast majority of those being targeted for removal have criminal convictions and have already received due process in the courts. Albence said: “After an exhaustive nearly two-year judicial review of the class members’ claims, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed ICE’s ability to remove the aliens represented in the case, the vast majority of whom have criminal convictions, to Iraq. The decision again affirmed that each individual received full due process. Consistent with the Sixth Circuit’s order, the agency will continue making removal arrangements for those Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal, as appropriate.” In November, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled in favor of the Iraqis, but in December, a three-judge panel with the sixth circuit ruled against him. In April, the full court upheld that decision, allowing the deportations to Iraq to go forward. Albence said ICE is carrying out its duties in removing the Iraqis and warned that those who cut their GPS monitor tethers will be prosecuted. “The U.S. government provides all those in removal proceedings with an opportunity to apply and be considered for relief from removal,” Albence said. “If at the conclusion of that review those individuals are found ineligible for relief by an immigration judge, ICE must carry out its sworn duty to enforce the law if or when an individual fails to comply with that removal order on his own. Those individuals who actively impede their removal, such as by cutting off their GPS monitor (tether) or absconding, are subject to further criminal prosecution.” ICE officials said that Iraq agreed in 2017 to accept the repatriation of Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. with criminal records who already had orders of removal. The ACLU lawsuit filed in 2017 said the Iraqis were generally unaware they could be sent back to Iraq in their criminal cases. The litigation allowed some of the Iraqis to get their cases reheard by judges in criminal or immigration courts and some are free for now. As ICE moves forward, families in U.S. worry Al-Sadoon’s wife, Belqis Florido, wonders if she and their six children ages 4 to 13 can survive without him. He is in the Livingston County Jail and is awaiting a hearing on charges he cut off his tether. “We’re hurting; we’re struggling right now,” Florido said Friday. “He was our provider, our protector, and he’s gone.” Ali Al-Sadoon, 34, of Redford, an Iraqi immigrant who has lived in the U.S. since 1994 and father of six children. He arrived in the U.S. as a refugee at the age of 9. ICE wants to deport him due to his criminal convictions and final order of removal. Michigan Department of Corrections Al-Sadoon was born in Iraq and came to the U.S. with his family in 1994 when he was 9 as a refugee. Florido said he used drugs years ago, which led him to commit some crimes. He was convicted of breaking and entering, safe breaking, larceny and fleeing a police officer, according to records with the Michigan Department of Corrections. He served four and a half years in prison for his convictions and then was placed in ICE custody for three more years, said Florido. He was released in December, after a federal judge ruled in favor of Iraqi plaintiffs in the ACLU lawsuit. When Al-Sadoon was told by ICE he would be deported soon, he cut off his tether because he wanted to see his family one last time and get his affairs in order before he was forced to leave, his wife said. Florido said he will die if he is sent to Iraq, just as Jimmy Al-Daoud, 41, did, two weeks ago. Al-Daoud, who lived in the U.S. since he was 6 months old, died Aug. 6 in Baghdad after he was deported in June, probably from complications from diabetes, said his attorney. “He doesn’t know anything about Iraq,” Florido said of her husband. If he’s deported, “we probably won’t hear from him ever again.” Florido said that a brother of Al-Sadoon was deported several years ago and was killed. She fears the same fate will befall her husband. He knows little Arabic and will clearly come across as American when he is in Iraq, making him an easy target, she said. “He doesn’t speak Arabic that well, has tattoos, he’s more American than I am and I was born in America,” she said. “The same thing that happened to Jimmy is going to happen to my husband.” A deportee’s death in Iraq ignites fear On Thursday night, mourners gathered at the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights to remember Al-Daoud, saying his death should be a wake up call to block further deportations. “He did not deserve this,” said Al-Daoud’s sister, Rita Al-Daoud, in tears at the vigil. “He had a really, really big heart. … No one deserves to die … scared and alone.” Last week, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, sent a letter to President Donald Trump signed by him, U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, and 39 other House Democrats demanding an end to the deportations. Congressman Andy Levin speaks during a vigil for Jimmy Al-Daoud at Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, Thursday, August 15, 2019. Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press Metro Detroit has a sizable Iraqi-American population, many of whom have voiced concerns. Levin’s 9th House district in metro Detroit has the highest number of residents born in Iraq, about 16,000, among all House districts in the U.S. “The system will do it again” if more Iraqis are deported, Levin told the crowd at the vigil for Al-Daoud at the Chaldean center. “The situation could not be more urgent.” Levin said that Iraqi-Americans who have been sent back are facing threats to their lives and some are suicidal. More: ‘Miserable and afraid,’ Jimmy of Michigan suffered in Iraq before his death after deportation More: Iraqi-American Christians disappointed with Trump Eva Shamou, of Sterling Heights, said her 50-year-old uncle from Warren was deported last month to Iraq and had been living with Al-Daoud. He had been living in the U.S. since was a teenager, but after some criminal convictions, he was ordered removed to Iraq. “He was homeless” until an Assyrian group helped him, Shamou said. She said he told her recently: “I’m ready to kill myself, because I can’t live like this.” “Everything there is a shock to him,” she said. Shamou didn’t give her uncle’s name because she is worried about his safety in Iraq. Jimmy Aldaoud, 41, of metro Detroit, died in Iraq, on August 6, 2019, after being deported in June. He had lived in the U.S. since he was 6-months old. Family members said he suffered from diabetes and mental illness. Rita Aldaoud More: Michigan man with diabetes dies in Iraq after ICE deported him ICE said foreign nationals who are ordered to be deported get extensive due process that costs American taxpayers. ICE said those who face such orders have several chances to appeal, with the Board of Immigration Appeals, a U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. ACLU Michigan attorney Margo Schlanger, who also helped with the ACLU lawsuit, said that out of the 16 Iraqi nationals who have been deported, seven of them were part of their litigation. ICE said that eight Iraqi nationals deported since April are from metro Detroit. “We are extremely concerned about what has happened,” said Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Michigan, who helped lead the litigation against ICE on behalf of the Iraqis detained. “They are in extreme danger.” Aukerman told the Free Press two weeks before Al-Daoud died: “We’re seeing people being deported to a place where they are likely to be persecuted, tortured and killed.” Contact Niraj Warikoo: Twitter @nwarikoo. Published 9:11 AM EDT Aug 19, 2019