(WASHINGTON) — A federal judge in Michigan blocked the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals on Monday, giving the immigrants time to make their cases in court before the government can attempt to deport them.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith entered a preliminary injunction that would give the immigrants at least three more months to argue their cases before the Board of Immigration Appeals, and the courts, before the government can attempt to send them back to Iraq.
In his ruling on Monday, Goldsmith said the potential deportees, many whom are Chaldean Christian, would face “grave harm and possible death” in Iraq because they are considered minorities there.
The Iraqis were targeted for deportation because they had overstayed their visas or committed crimes — typically misdemeanors, according to advocates.
Many of those targeted entered in the U.S. as children and more than of them half had been in the country for more than a decade because Iraq had refused to take them back, according to the ruling.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration said it would remove Iraq from its updated travel ban and the country agreed to start accepting deportees from the U.S. after refusing to do so for many years.
In June, 234 Iraqi nationals were arrested and detained on removal orders that were, in most cases, dormant for between five and 10 years.
Those detained — most of them from Detroit, which has a large Chaldean Christian population, have been scattered around the country in different federal detention facilities with limited access to legal advocates and their families, the court said.
Goldsmith determined that returning them “to the lawlessness and senseless religious hatred that engulfs much of Iraq would subject them to persecution, torture, and possible death,” according to the ruling.
“In these singular circumstances, a federal district court is armed with jurisdiction to act as a first responder,” Goldsmith wrote, adding that the court can assure “that those who might be subjected to grave harm and possible death are not cast out of this country before having their day in court.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which had previously obtained a temporary order that blocked the Iraqis’ deportation, said the ruling could save lives. The previous order was set to expire at midnight Tuesday, according to the ACLU.
“This ruling continues to block the government from recklessly sending these individuals into harm’s way,” Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project said in a statement Monday. “The court’s action could literally save lives.”
There was no immediate response by the U.S. Justice Department, although lawyers at earlier court hearings signaled that an appeal was likely if Goldsmith granted an injunction, according to The Associated Press.
“This court and petitioners rely primarily on conditions in ISIS-controlled territory to establish harm. But no alien would be removed to that part of Iraq,” the Justice Department’s William Silvis said in a court filing last week.
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