Federal judge orders supervised release of Iraqis held for months

A federal judge ordered the US on Tuesday to put a group of Iraqi immigrants, some of whom who have been in detention for nearly a year and a half, on supervised release in a strongly worded decision against the government.

The opinion from Judge Mark Goldsmith in Michigan showed the judge believed Iraq would not take back nationals who were being forced to return, contrary to what the US had claimed, which meant that as a result “the Iraqi detainees could remain locked up indefinitely.”

“More evidence confirming Iraq’s refusal to repatriate might well exist, but 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,” Goldsmith wrote.

He wrote further that many of the affected individuals had been ordered removed to Iraq years ago because of crimes they had committed in the US.

“All detainees served their sentences and were released under orders of supervision, because Iraq refused to accept repatriation,” the judge wrote. “According to Petitioners, they lived peaceably in their respective communities under the orders of supervision — a point the Government does not contest.”

The order was a win for the Iraqi nationals, who have been in the custody of the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agency as they awaited deportation. The American Civil Liberties Union pushed for their release and, as CNN reported previously, argued that some feared for their safety if they were returned to Iraq.

The government maintained, however, that Iraq would accept the deported nationals and that in meantime the US could keep them detained.

Goldsmith said Tuesday in his decision that it did not appear Iraq would accept those who had been forcibly repatriated, despite the US government’s claims.

Ann Mullen, communications director for ACLU Michigan, said the order appeared to mean that roughly 100 people would be affected right away, with about 115 due for release in total, based on the structure of the order.

ICE targeted more than 100 Iraqis in Michigan and northern Ohio for deportation in 2017, which led to yet another legal battle between civil liberties groups and the Trump administration over its approach to immigration enforcement and deportation.

CNN reached out to the Justice Department for its response to the preliminary decision. ICE said it was “reviewing the decision” as of Tuesday afternoon.

Goldsmith wrote that anyone in the case who the US had detained for six or more months must be put under supervised release over the next 30 days until there is a final decision in their case, with exceptions for people who had already been deported or in instances where the government would argue “there is a strong special justification” to keep a person detained.