A federal judge has halted the deportations of roughly 1,400 Iraqi nationals — many of whom are Chaldean Christians who fear persecution in their homeland — until their removal orders to the war-torn nation can be reviewed.
The controversy began in early June, when the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers began rounding up dozens of Iraqi nationals in the Detroit, Michigan area, prepping them for deportation. The raids mostly targeted Chaldean Christians — a subset of Catholicism in the Iraqi region — and was the result of strange development surrounding Trump’s Muslim ban: Iraq was removed from the second iteration of the ban partly because leaders agreed to take back nationals with outstanding removal orders from the U.S.
Chaldean leaders protested the detentions, saying returning their people to Iraq, where Christians and other religious minorities often face persecution, amounts to a “death sentence.” In response, the American Civil Liberties Union helped the community file a lawsuit to halt the deportations, citing federal law prohibiting the removal of individuals to countries where they could face persecution or torture. Federal officials, in turn, argued the courts lacked jurisdiction to stop deportation proceedings in the case, and noted to the press that those arrested had criminal convictions.
Judge Mark Goldsmith of the Eastern District of Michigan temporarily stopped the deportation proceedings to review the case, but, according to the Associated Press, ultimately sided with Iraqi nationals on Tuesday evening. He rejected the federal government’s argument in a 24-page order, explaining the stakes in the case were simply too high.
“This Court concludes that to enforce the Congressional mandate that district courts lack jurisdiction — despite the compelling context of this case — would expose Petitioners to the substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court,” Goldsmith wrote.
The ruling will allow the Iraqi nationals time to make their case in immigration court, where most will likely contend that returning to Iraq will put them in jeopardy. Meanwhile, another hearing will take place Thursday to address other matters in the case, such as the barring the deportations.
The back-and-forth has placed President Donald Trump’s administration in an uncomfortable spot, especially since he campaigned on a platform that included protecting persecuted Christians abroad — an important issue for many leaders of the Religious Right. In a rare move, conservative Christians Trump surrogates such as Rev. Franklin Graham spoke out against the raids in recent days, asking the president to reexamine the plight of the Chaldeans.