Judge orders Trump administration to release Iraqi Christians fighting deportation orders

(Reuters/Rebecca Cook/File Photo)FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017.

A judge in Detroit has ordered the government to release hundreds of Iraqi nationals, many of whom are Christians, that have been detained for months under U.S. deportation orders.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered the immigration judges to hold hearings for the Iraqi nationals who were slated for deportation for crimes committed in the U.S.

"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," Goldsmith said, according to The Associated Press.

The judge said that the authorities must release detainees who do not get a bond hearing by Feb. 2, unless they pose a public safety risk.

Goldsmith noted that some detainees could remain locked up if the government provides specific objections.

President Donald Trump has been attempting to deport Iraqis in an effort to tighten immigration and security in the nation.

In July, Goldsmith blocked Trump's deportation order for as many as 1,400 Iraqis, allowing them some time to challenge their expulsion. Many of those with final deportation orders are Christians who fear being tortured or killed if sent back to Iraq. Since June, around 300 Iraqi nationals have been detained by immigration enforcement officers, according to Reuters.

The government has appealed Goldsmith's earlier decisions, arguing that he is exceeding his authority and that he should leave deportation disputes to immigrant courts.

The Iraqi government has reportedly agreed to repatriate its nationals in March, but Goldsmith said on Tuesday that there is "no written agreement" regarding such cooperation, adding that the conditions under which the nationals would be sent back are yet to be made clear.

Tuesday's ruling was hailed by civil rights groups representing the detainees. "(Goldsmith) just really reaffirmed the principle that indefinite detention in this country is not acceptable," said Kary Moss, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

Earlier this year, many evangelical groups, including members of Trump's evangelical advisory board, have raised their objections to the deportation of the Iraqis.

Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who is a Chaldean Catholic of Assyrian and Armenian heritage, noted that Chaldeans have been targeted by the Islamic State and have been subjected to genocide like other religious minorities in the Middle East.

"Their deportation represents a death sentence should they be deported to Iraq or Syria," she said. "It has also been reported that the individuals have criminal records. If the offenses they committed have already been 'paid for' by serving an appropriate sentence, facing a death sentence via deportation is disproportionate and unjust," she added.

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