(Bloomberg) -- A federal judge ordered the Trump administration to stop immigration authorities from using coercion, intimidation or misinformation to pressure a group of about 130 Iraqis who are long-term U.S. residents into agreeing to be deported.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit on Wednesday granted a request for an emergency order sought by the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued on behalf of detainees it describes as persecuted ethnic or religious minorities who may face torture or death if they return to Iraq.
After President Donald Trump took office, about 1,400 Iraqis who were subject to orders of removal were rounded up and detained. Many came to the U.S. as children, started families in the country and have been working in the U.S. for decades, the ACLU says.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began using threats and misinformation to try to convince the Iraqis who are being detained across the U.S. with limited access to lawyers that it’s a crime to say they wish to remain here with their families and continue their immigration fights in court, according to the ACLU.
"ICE officers are not allowed to communicate with them about their immigration cases, length of their detention, or prospect of removal to Iraq," the judge said. "While detainees with final orders must cooperate with obtaining passports or travel documents, they cannot be required to state that they wish to return to Iraq."
Goldsmith ruled in July 2017 that the group couldn’t be returned en masse as Trump planned, undermining a key element of a U.S.-Iraq accord under which the Iraqi government agreed to take them back. The deal was negotiated as a condition of dropping Iraq from a list of nations on Trump’s travel ban.
The judge later ruled that the detainees couldn’t be held indefinitely pending their immigration hearings and ordered many of them released.
The Iraqis targeted by immigration authorities, a mix of Muslims and Christians from the Detroit area and elsewhere in the U.S., were previously deemed eligible for removal because they were convicted of crimes or had overstayed their visas. The government hasn’t provided the details of their criminal histories, and all the detainees served their sentences and were released long ago, the judge said.
ICE had pressured the detainees to agree in writing that they wished to return to Iraq because the government of Iraq has signaled that it will only issue travel documents for members of the group who do that, the ACLU has said.
“It is not a crime to want to stay in America with your family,” Miriam Aukerman, a lawyer with ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement after the judge issued the order Wednesday. “We are glad that the judge made sure that our clients -- and ICE -- know that.”
The case is Hamama v. Adducci, 17-cv-11910, U.S. District Court, Eastern District of Michigan (Detroit).
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