Detained Iraqis hope for pardon from Gov. Snyder

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Kim Kozlowski, The Detroit News
(Photo: Robin Buckson / The Detroit News)
When police officers came to Caroline Taymour’s home in June and took her husband away for deportation to Iraq, she was devastated. She thought the couple and their three children would never again live together as a family.

Her husband, Kamiran Taymour, was born a Kurd in Iraq but fled with his family to Turkey in the early 1990s, when Saddam Hussein’s regime ruled Iraq. He then came to Detroit as a teen before settling in Ann Arbor, where he built a family and established a small business.

Over the years, Taymour had two criminal incidents involving marijuana — a trace in his car and a sale, according to his wife. That’s why he is among hundreds of Iraqis who were arrested across the country in June in one of the biggest roundups of Iraqi nationals in recent memory by federal immigration officials.

He shares a similar story with others in the same predicament: He left Iraq so long ago that he knows no one there, never learned the language and fears persecution by Muslim militants if sent back, because he is Christian. His supporters also believe his criminal record is minor and is not grounds to deport him and break up his family.

Four months after Taymour was jailed in Ohio, his wife recently saw some rays of hope. Taymour is being considered for a possible pardon from Gov. Rick Snyder, and his case was reopened in Detroit immigration court.

“I am really grateful, but don’t want to get to ahead of myself,” said Caroline Taymour, an Ann Arbor resident. “I’d do any thing for him to come home. I would never stop being thankful. It would be everything to have our family together again.”

Many Iraqi nationals detained by federal immigration officials are starting to see some signs that they might not face deportation, weeks after it appeared as though they were going to be removed.
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Nine people are being considered by the Michigan Parole Board for possible pardon of their crimes, and 30 recently learned their cases would be reopened in Detroit immigration court, officials said. The 39 people with movement on their cases are only a fraction of the 254 Iraqis who are in detention following arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but advocates for the detainees say it’s a start.

“The fight is an uphill battle but tell your loved ones never to despair, that our justice court system still works & we have fair & reasonable judges,” immigration attorney Eman Jajonie-Daman wrote recently on her Facebook page. “Each case must be analyzed separately and thoroughly for there are many reliefs available, but not everyone is eligible for everything.”

Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Detroit, said those subject to removal have a right to seek freedom but if their efforts fail, ICE must do its job.

“Aliens who are subject to removal under our immigration laws are afforded various procedural protections at great expense to the taxpayer,” Walls said. “Those subject to removal proceedings before an immigration judge have every opportunity to pursue legal defenses. … However, once an alien has been ordered removed and no legal impediment to executing that order exists, it is ICE’s job to enforce the order of removal.”

For years, Iraq had not accepted deportees from the U.S. without travel documents in an effort to secure its border against terrorists from groups such as the Islamic State. Many Iraqis came to the U.S. when they were young and do not have documents to prove they were born in their native land.

But a new policy was recently negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq, allowing ICE to start deportations back to Iraq for the first time in seven years.

During the second week of June, ICE arrested 199 Iraqi nationals across the country with final orders of deportation, including 114 people living in Metro Detroit. Subsequent arrests have since occurred, leading to a total of 254 Iraqi nationals currently in custody, according to ICE officials in Detroit.

Many of those detained are Chaldeans who they fear persecution, torture and possibly death if forced to return to their native country, where Christians are a minority.

Meanwhile, about 1,200 Iraqi nationals across the country are under final orders of deportation, according to ICE.

More than two dozen attorneys and organizations were assembled within 48 hours of the arrests in June, and many have been working pro bono for those facing removal. Several rallies were also held to protest.

The ACLU of Michigan led an effort to get a preliminary injunction against the Iraqi nationals’ removal, which was granted July 24 by U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith.

Since then, 187 cases across the country have been filed requesting to be reopened as of last week, including 130 coming from the Detroit immigration court, said Margo Shlanger, a University of Michigan professor and cooperating attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. Of the cases that have been filed, 53 have been granted to be reopened, including 30 in Detroit.

“There seems to be an understanding that this is really a serious claim and this needs to be taken seriously,” Schlanger said.

The reopening of cases is a lengthy process, and the immigration courts have denied requests of some, who may be considering appealing the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Those whose requests have been rejected by the Board of Immigration Appeals have to seek relief from the federal courts. So right now, the status of individuals with requests to reopen their cases in immigration court is mixed, and these cases could take months to resolve, Schlanger said.

Even so, many families are doing what they can to keep their loved ones in the U.S.

“It’s very hard to tell what is going to happen yet,” said Schlanger “Each one of these people have different avenues of relief that might work for them…

“Pretty much all of them have the argument that under the Convention Against Torture, their removal would subject them to a high risk of persecution and torture and therefore they can’t be removed.”

While many have sought to reopen their cases in immigration court, 64 detained Iraqis requested a pardon from Snyder for their crimes, and the Michigan Parole Board voted in August to look at nine cases.

The board’s decision to look at nine cases does not mean the rest are precluded, said Anna Heaton, press secretary for Snyder.

“This just means theses are initial ones,” Heaton said. “There could be others in the future.”

The nine cases will be assigned to a parole or investigations agent, who will look at the claims of the individuals and gather a criminal history, according to Chris Gautz, spokesman for the Michigan Department of Corrections.

The board will consider whether to go on to the next step, which would be a public hearing. The board will vote after any hearings and Snyder will make the final decision.

It is unlikely these cases will be voted on by the board to go to a public hearing in the next few weeks, Gautz said. More likely it will be October, at the earliest, meaning a final decision and vote to send a recommendation to the governor wouldn’t come until the end of the year at the earliest, and possibly even next year.

“We are doing our best to make sure this is done in a timely fashion,” Gautz said. “But we still have to make sure we are protecting the public.”

Snyder has not issued many pardons. Of the 755 requests submitted since he took office in 2011, Snyder has pardoned 11 people – and all were in 2014, according to data from the Michigan Department of Corrections.

But many families, including the Taymours, are still clinging to the hope that their loved ones will get out of prison.

“We really need (my husband) home,” Caroline Taymour said.

Number of pardon requests to the Michigan Parole Board

2011 – 126

2012 – 124

2013 – 124

2014 -103

2015- 114

2016- 90

2017 – 74 (YTD)

Gov. Rick Snyder has pardoned 11 individuals during his time in office. All were in 2014.

Source: Michigan Department of Corrections