Attorneys ask judge to extend stay for Iraqi detainees

4:12 p.m. ET July 5, 2017

Detroit — Lawyers for detained Iraqi immigrants asked a federal judge Wednesday to extend a stay that blocks the deportation of Iraqi immigrants.

On June 25, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith already expanded a stay of Metro Detroit Iraqi immigrants into a national, two-week ban on deportations. The stay expires Monday and he has yet to decide if his court has jurisdiction to grant an extension.

There are an estimated 1,400 Iraqi immigrants in the U.S. with final orders of removal, according to a motion filed last month by the plaintiffs.

Margo Schlanger, an attorney representing the Iraqi detainees, asked that the stay be extended to allow the Chaldeans to have proper access to attorneys. She said the Christian immigrants face torture and death if forced to return to Iraq, which is plagued by sectarian violence.

Most of the 114 detainees from Metro Detroit are still being held at a detention center in Youngstown, Ohio, about 230 miles from Detroit. Schlanger claimed it is difficult for attorneys and family members of the detained to communicate with them.

“We found out for four to five days, their phone service has been cut off in the detention center. There is an emergency need for more time,” Schlanger said. “It’s making it harder. They have not been able to contact their counsel or family.”

Schlanger said Goldsmith has authority to grant the motions under the due process clause of the U.S. Constitution and under the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture.

“People can file and have counsel but don’t have contact with them. They need the protection of the stay,” she said.

Federal officials have defended the deportation orders, saying they apply to Iraqi nationals who committed crimes.

August Flentje, an attorney in the Department of Justice’s civil division, argued that Goldsmith lacks jurisdiction and that the extension request should be heard by federal immigration courts.

If the court allowed an extension, Flentje requested that it only apply to detainees without counsel or those who have already filed a motion for a stay extension. So far, he said, 93 of 220 detainees have filed requests.

In arguing against extending the stay, Flentje said there are deportations to Iraq every year.

“In 2014, 163 were removed to Iraq ... 325 total since 2010,” he said. “It’s not new. Since January, the president issued an executive order ... and removal of aliens (has) been a priority. There have been warning signs.”

He also said the majority of these cases are not as old as the defense is claiming.

“Of the detainees, 20 removal orders are prior to 2000, 196 after 2000, 84 of them are 2010 to present,” Flentje said.

Schlanger asked in her filing for information about the detainees from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, including their transfer history, criminal history and whether they have an attorney and family contacts.

“These are questions you would ask that we want to know to brief you,” Schlanger told Goldsmith.

The government said it may need time to fulfill that request, but the petitioners have not made it clear how the information is of use to their case.

“The judge is on top of his issues. What may happen is we’ll see a decision on jurisdiction first and then the rest later,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. “The government hasn’t made it clear if they’re going to appeal.”