ICE Lied to Judge in Fight Over Detained Iraqis, ACLU Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.S. immigration officials repeatedly lied to a judge to keep more than 100 Iraqi nationals behind bars for over a year as the government fought to deport them and about 1,300 other Iraqis to a country where they might be tortured, the American Civil Liberties Union said.

The people, many of whom came to the U.S. as children, started families and have been working in the U.S. for decades, should be freed pending the outcome of their immigration cases because the effort to deport them will likely fail, the ACLU said Wednesday in a court filing in Detroit.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement told U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in January that the Iraqi government was prepared to repatriate the group of about 1,400 people "without limitation," even though recently revealed documents show ICE knew that was false, the ACLU said.

“ICE’s dishonesty is the reason the detainees are behind bars, rather than home with their families,” Miriam Aukerman, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement.

The rights group said ICE falsely signaled that Iraq was prepared to "quickly and easily" accept the detainees, which justified keeping the group locked up pending their imminent departure. In fact, the ACLU says, Iraq won’t accept deportees who don’t want to return -- and can refuse to admit those who arrive at Baghdad international airport. That’s why the group has remained in the U.S. for years despite attempts by earlier administrations to remove them.

ICE declined to comment on the court filing.

In a separate filing Wednesday, the ACLU asked Goldsmith to sanction ICE for making the allegedly false statements in court, including claims that Iraq was prepared to accept a charter flight of deportees.

The ACLU also asked Goldsmith, who last year spared the Iraqis from immediate deportation, to unseal evidence that the rights group says will prove ICE made the false statements. The group said it had to fight in court to gain access to the government documents. 

After President Donald Trump took office, about 1,400 Iraqis who were subject to orders of removal under earlier administrations were earmarked for deportation, and hundreds were arrested.

The targeted Iraqis, 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. Those who committed crimes already served their sentences.

The ACLU sued on their behalf, saying they’re persecuted ethnic or religious minorities who may face torture or death if they return to Iraq.

In June, Goldsmith ordered the Trump administration to stop immigration authorities from using coercion, intimidation or misinformation to pressure the jailed Iraqis into agreeing to be deported. ICE had been using threats and misinformation to try to convince the Iraqis -- who have limited access to lawyers -- that it’s a crime to say they wish keep fighting to stay in the U.S., the ACLU has said.

In Wednesday’s filing, the ACLU said ICE’s tactics resulted in 37 detainees giving up their fight and agreeing to deportation "despite the danger of persecution, torture, or even murder in Iraq."

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