Trump Administration Lied to Federal Judge to Deport Iraqis, He Rules

(Bloomberg) -- The Trump administration lied to keep more than 120 Iraqis behind bars in a long-shot effort to deport them, a federal judge in Detroit ruled, ordering the government to release them.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith on Tuesday gave Immigration and Customs Enforcement 30 days to free the Iraqis, many of whom have been locked up in local jails for over a year.

Goldsmith said he would sanction the government for giving him “demonstrably false” information about Iraq’s willingness to repatriate the prisoners against their will, making it appear that the deportation effort would succeed when in reality it was unlikely, according to the ruling. Evidence uncovered in the case showed Iraq actually refused to accept detainees unwilling to go back to their home country.

"The government has acted ignobly in this case, by failing to comply with court orders, submitting demonstrably false declarations of government officials, and otherwise violating its litigation obligations," the judge said.

Federal law prohibits the government from indefinitely detaining foreign nationals while it seeks to deport them, when "there is no significant likelihood of repatriation in the reasonably foreseeable future,” Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith’s order came on the heels of another, in a different court, that halted the administration’s attempt to seal the U.S. southern border as a caravan of Central American migrants nears. Both efforts are part of Trump’s promise to crack down on illegal immigration.

ICE said in a statement that the agency is reviewing the decision.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued in June 2017 after Iraqis who’d been living in the U.S. for years were rounded up and detained. The people, 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 immigrants’ cases were dormant for years before the Trump administration abruptly moved for deportation after reaching a deal with the Iraqi government to take them back. After one successful charter flight with about eight people in early 2017, every other attempted flight was canceled after Iraq objected, according to the ruling. The U.S. seeks to remove about 1,400 Iraqis.

Last year, Goldsmith allowed the detainees to challenge their deportations on the grounds that they may face torture or death in Iraq.

“ICE thought it could get away with lying to a federal judge," ACLU senior staff attorney Miriam Aukerman said in a statement. "ICE thought it could get away with using indefinite detention to coerce Iraqis to accept deportation despite the dangers they face in Iraq.”

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