Michigan lawmakers appeal to Pompeo on Iraqi deportations

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Melissa Nann Burke The Detroit News U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, left, D-District 9, and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, applaud one of the speakers during a press conference announcing a bi-partisan bill they cowrote that would provide a 2-year period of relief to Iraqi nationals facing deportation. The press conference was held at the Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, Michigan on May 3, 2019. The bill would allow time for Iraqi nationals’ cases to be heard in the courts. Brandy Baker / Special to the Detroit News

Washington — Two Michigan lawmakers are appealing to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “urgently” seeking his assistance to prevent the deportation or detention of Iraqi nationals, including Christians and other minorities at risk of persecution. The letter to Pompeo, sent Monday by Reps. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, and John Moolenaar, R-Midland, comes amid multiple reports of deportations received by Levin’s office, including the case of a man with mental illness who has no family in Iraq who was sent there with no clothes or money.Immigration court records indicate that the deportation of 20 more Iraqi nationals could be imminent, as the government anticipated receiving travel documents for them from Iraq this month. “As you know, Iraqi nationals who are removed face significant danger in Iraq. Many are thoroughly Americanized, having known no home but America, and speak little or no Arabic,” Moolenaar and Levin wrote to Pompeo. “Moreover, many came to the United States years ago as refugees or asylees as members of religious minorities that face persecution in Iraq.” In April, an appeals court affirmed its December ruling that federal agents could resume deporting Iraqi detainees swept up in immigration raids in 2017. Over 100 of the 1,400 detained that summer were from Michigan. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit on Monday declined to provide a specific number of Iraqi nationals that have been returned to Iraq so far, but confirmed that the agency has been removing “and will continue making removal arrangements for those with final orders of removal who have no legal impediments to removal,” consistent with the court’s ruling. Levin and Moolenaar this spring introduced a bipartisan bill to provide two years of relief from deportation for Iraqi nationals with orders of deportation so each could be allowed time to have their case heard in immigration court. Levin noted that Pompeo has acknowledged the threats faced by religious minorities in Iraq, which is why he and Moolenaar hope that Pompeo would partner in their effort to protect the Iraqis from persecution. Bipartisan lawmakers have previously appealed to Immigration and Customs Enforcement urging it to refrain from wholesale detention and deportation of the Iraqis, and written to Vice President Mike Pence, who has advocated for persecuted Christians abroad. The Trump administration has not taken any action in response, Levin and Moolenaar told Pompeo. “The deportations have started, and people are being sent to face extreme danger,” said Levin, whose district has the largest Iraqi-born community of any in Congress. “While we work to advance our bill in the House that would grant relief to the Iraqi nationals facing deportation, we need support from the executive branch.” Moolenaar said even the U.S. State Department last month ordered many of its employees out of Iraq because of the instability there. “There’s no doubt Iraqi Christians in the United States will face persecution and possible death if they are sent back to Iraq,” Moolenaar said. “We believe it is paramount to support religious freedom and the right of people to practice their faith without fear of persecution.” The American Civil Liberties Union had filed a nationwide class-action lawsuit in June 2017 on behalf of the detainees, who had been arrested without warning and threatened with immediate deportation, though many came here as children and had lived and worked in the United States for decades. Some detainees were released under court order after 19 months based on a July 2017 ruling by Detroit U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, who reasoned that Immigration and Customs Enforcement could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals while ICE sought to deport them. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit later reversed Goldsmith’s orders relating to the detainees’ removal and bond. mburke@detroitnews.com