Judge in Detroit tells ICE to stop threatening Iraqi detainees

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Niraj Warikoo Detroit Free Press
A federal judge in Detroit slammed ICE on Wednesday for threatening some Iraqi detainees with solitary confinement and for pressuring them to drop out of a lawsuit filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

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
In his order, Judge Mark Goldsmith of U.S. District Court in Detroit said that ICE staff or staff in the Calhoun County jail in Michigan would “frequently tell detainees that they are still being detained ‘because of the Hamama case,’ ” referring to the ACLU lawsuit filed last year against ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) on behalf of Usama Hamama and many other Iraqi detainees who were arrested by ICE. Most of them were Iraqi legal immigrants with criminal records that made them eligible for deportation.

The judge ordered ICE to inform authorities in the Calhoun County jail to be aware of and follow his June 20 order forbidding harassment of Iraqi detainees.

On June 20, Goldsmith had ordered ICE not to mislead or threaten Iraqi detainees if they continued to be part of the ACLU lawsuit. Goldsmith said Wednesday that his June order was partly ignored, citing a declaration last month by Monica Andrade, a legal fellow at ACLU Michigan.

“An ICE officer reportedly told a detainee that if he ‘left the class’ he would be released from detention,” Goldsmith wrote. “Detainees have been told that they will be returned to general population ‘when (they) sign papers and get out of Hamama.’ ”

Goldsmith said that detainees are also being subject to solitary confinement for “trivial” or “nonexistent” reasons.

“To compound the matter, Andrade says that she has received reports that many of the Hamama class members are being subjected to solitary confinement for trivial matters, such as taking off a shirt to shave or standing on a toilet to kill a spider,” Goldsmith wrote. “Other class members report that the reasons for confinement are essentially fabricated or completely nonexistent.”

The judge said that ICE attorneys “do not deny any of these allegations. Instead, they argue that the detainees would be better served by availing themselves of Calhoun’s grievance process.”

The judge said the detainees are considering a mass hunger strike.

Khaalid Walls, spokesman for the Michigan and Ohio branches of ICE, told the Free Press in a statement: “We are currently reviewing the decision.”

Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU Michigan, told the Free Press that the Iraqi detainees “have been subjected to terrible, terrible conditions there, including solitary, and are being coerced into giving up their rights. Quite a number have been on hunger strike.”

About 1,400 Iraqi immigrant detainees were detained last year by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, many of them in Michigan. Many of the detainees are Christian, who are a minority in Iraq and say they would be persecuted if they were forced to go back.

Aukerman said it “is clear from the court’s order, the coercion has not stopped.”

“ICE is keeping over 100 Iraqis locked up to try to force them to return to a country where they face persecution, torture or even death,” she added. “ICE is counting on the fact that it can break the spirit of the detainees, either by keeping them in jail for what has now been over 14 months, or by misinformation and threats.”

The U.S. government moved to arrest and attempt to deport the Iraqis after reaching an agreement last year with the Iraqi government, which had previously refused to take them. The U.S. maintains their cases have already been adjudicated in immigration courts and that the detainees had final orders of removal. ICE has said the Iraqi detainees pose threats because of their criminal histories.

The ACLU has been trying to get them released on bond and get their cases re-heard in immigration court

The crimes the Iraqis have committed range from marijuana possession to assault. Under U.S. law, legal immigrants with criminal records can be deported. The Trump administration has more aggressively pursued such cases.

In June 2017, ICE agents arrested more than 100 Iraqis across Michigan in raids that stunned Iraqi-American Christians. Judge Goldsmith later blocked their deportations after the ACLU filed a lawsuit.