U.S. District Judge Mark A Goldsmith, an Obama appointee, earlier had halted deportations for nearly 300 Iraqis, saying that although they had long been ordered removed, conditions on the ground in Iraq had changed and they deserved new hearings.
His latest ruling Tuesday evening goes further, certifying some of the Iraqis as a class-action lawsuit and saying most of them should be “allowed to return to their productive lives” while they wait for new hearings — meaning they must be released from detention unless the government can prove they are a major risk to public safety.
“Our legal tradition rejects warehousing human beings while their legal rights are being determined, without an opportunity to persuade a judge that the norm of monitored freedom should be followed,” Judge Goldsmith wrote. “This principle is familiar to all in the context of the criminal law, where even a heinous criminal — whether a citizen or not — enjoys the right to seek pre-trial release.”
At last count, there were 274 people whose deportations have been blocked by Judge Goldsmith, and he said the “vast majority” have been in custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for at least six months.
A Justice Department official said the agency disagrees with the decision and is pondering the next step.
ICE officials, in a statement, predicted the ruling eventually will be overturned.
“ICE is reviewing the decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to determine the path forward,” the agency said. “ICE is deeply disturbed by the decision, but will comply with the decision unless and until it is reversed by an appellate court.”
The Iraqis represent just one instance in which immigrant rights groups have gone to court and won favorable rulings to protect people the Trump administration is trying to deport.
A hearing is slated next week for nearly 100 illegal immigrants from Somalia, also ordered deported, who the groups say would face persecution if they were sent back.
In the case of the Iraqis, some have been awaiting deportation for two decades and have committed crimes ranging from drugs and assaults to rape and homicide.
For years, Iraq refused to cooperate with deportations, and the migrants were released into the U.S.
Under pressure from the Trump administration’s original travel ban policy, the Iraqi government agreed to take back the deportees.
Pro-immigration activists intervened, arguing that conditions in Iraq had deteriorated, with the Islamic State controlling territory and making deportation a potential “death sentence” for those who would be sent back.
Judge Goldsmith agreed with them, ordering a nationwide halt to the deportations to give the Iraqis time to demand their deportation cases be reopened.
In his latest ruling this week, the judge said it’s not clear how much cooperation Iraq is providing, and he discounted a sworn declaration by a top Homeland Security official as insufficient. That means it’s unclear how long it would take to deport the Iraqis, making their detention time all the more uncertain.
Under a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, immigration is deemed a civil proceeding with migrants afforded strict rights that prevent them from being held too long. Six months is generally considered the limit.