Bill offers 2 years to get Iraqis’ deportation cases heard

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published May 13, 2019

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STERLING HEIGHTS — A Chaldean community organization and a local lawmaker have expressed a sense of accomplishment over the introduction of a new bill that, if passed, might allow some Iraqi nationals with deportation removal orders to stay in the U.S.

On May 3 at the Shenandoah Country Club in West Bloomfield, several Michigan lawmakers announced the bill in conjunction with the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce’s awards dinner. Democratic U.S. Reps. Andy Levin, Elissa Slotkin and Haley Stevens were there, as was Republican U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar. The bill is known as HR 2537, or the Deferred Removal for Iraqi Nationals Including Minorities Act, and it was introduced in the House May 7.

The legislation, should it pass, would offer a 24-month deferral period for the Iraqi nationals who have had removal orders and lived in the U.S. on or prior to Jan. 1, 2014. Voluntary deportees, national security threats and planned extraditions are not covered under the bill. Supporters say the bill would affect roughly 1,000 Iraqis.

In 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested dozens of Iraqi nationals in Michigan, but a federal district court judge put a stay on mass deportations that allowed some cases to get individual judicial reviews. Late last year, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals effectively nullified the district court’s orders, and in April the appellate court declined to take an additional look at the matter, thus creating the potential for continued deportations, Levin said.

According to ICE, many of the Iraqi nationals have convictions for crimes, some of them violent ones.

“This decision is a decisive victory further vindicating ICE’s efforts to remove these aliens, many of whom had criminal convictions, to Iraq. The court’s decision again affirms that each individual fully litigated their cases, receiving exhaustive due process. ICE is now reviewing this decision to determine its next steps,” ICE Detroit Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci recently said in a statement.

Representatives from the U.S. Department of Justice declined or  did not respond for comment by press time.

But supporters of the new bill say a blanket deportation would expose many of the affected Iraqi nationals, including Christian Chaldeans, to persecution and danger.

Levin said many of the affected Iraqis got their deportation orders five, 10 or 20 years ago, and the situation has changed on the ground in Iraq due to years of war and terrorism, especially aimed at Chaldeans.

“Their village might not be there anymore,” he said.

Levin added that, typically, when cases are fully heard, around 60 percent of the Iraqi nationals have had their immigration status adjusted to something besides deportation.

“We need to do everything we can until we succeed in providing the Iraqi folks that have deportation orders basic due process of getting their individual case heard. That is the American way.”

Advocates launched a two-pronged approach that extends legislatively as well as toward the federal government’s executive branch.

Levin said a bipartisan group of over 20 U.S. House members — including many from Michigan — sent an April letter to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The letter urged them to let the Iraqi nationals get a fresh, individualized reassessment of their cases by a judge instead of deporting them en masse.

Additionally, some of the lawmakers sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence in light of ongoing changes to DHS and ICE leadership.

Chaldean Community Foundation President Martin Manna said his organization speaks to family members of the affected Iraqi nationals often, and the issue is “something we work on daily.”

Manna went to Washington, D.C., last month to discuss the proposal with government officials. He said his agency has been working hard with Levin and other lawmakers during the process of crafting the bill.

“Almost all the members of the Michigan delegation have signed on as co-sponsors of this,” Manna said. “We are extremely grateful for their advocacy so far. We’re really proud of getting it to the House.”

Manna said the discussion initially leaned toward making the proposed delay last a year, but he said the current backlog in the immigration courts convinced lawmakers to make it longer.

“Two years will allow them their due process,” he said. “It should be an adequate time.”

Learn more about the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights by visiting www.chaldeanfoundation.org or by calling (586) 722-7253.

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