The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a case to stop U.S. Immigration officials from deporting more than 100 Iraqi nationals, some of whom are Christians fearing that they will be persecuted if they are sent back to Iraq.
At least 114 Iraqis have been arrested in raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in Detroit, Michigan earlier this month. The arrests came after the Iraqi government agreed to take back immigrants who are subject to removal from the U.S.
On Thursday, the ACLU filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the deportation of the detainees, arguing that they must have the chance to prove that they could face torture or death if they are sent back to their native country.
"Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties," Kary Moss, executive director of ACLU Michigan, stated in a news release, according to MLive.
"We are hoping that the courts will recognize the extreme danger that deportation to Iraq would pose for these individuals," she added.
ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen noted that most of the detainees had previous criminal convictions ranging from burglary to murder.
The ACLU argued that many of the detainees had been picked up for minor offenses and most of them have been "fully compliant with their conditions of supervision and have had no further run-ins with the law."
Rebecca Adducci, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Detroit, said that the operation in Michigan was conducted to "address the very real public safety threat represented by the criminal aliens arrested."
"The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions, multiple felony convictions in many cases," Adducci said in a statement on Wednesday.
The Iraqi government has previously refused to take back Iraqi nationals with criminal records from the U.S., but the policy changed three months ago after it agreed to accept deportees as part of a deal to remove Iraq from President Donald Trump's travel ban.
According to Al Jazeera, most of the Iraqi nationals who were picked up in the operation were Chaldean Catholics, but Shia Muslims and Christian converts were also arrested. Immigration agents also arrested Kurdish Iraqis in a raid conducted in Nashville, Tennessee.
Chaldean Catholics, who are mainly based in northern Iraq, began migrating to the Detroit area in the 1920s. The Chaldean Community Foundation has estimated that around 200,000 Chaldeans are currently living in the U.S.