ACLU Settlement Ensures Fair Treatment for Detained Iraqi Nationals in the US

A federal court has preliminarily approved a proposed settlement agreement in a 2017 class action lawsuit between the federal government and Iraqi nationals that would ensure Iraqis will not be indefinitely detained or arrested because they want to regularize their immigration statuses, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Judge Mark Goldsmith issued an order Tuesday preliminarily approving the class settlement and setting a fairness hearing for July 31. Both the ACLU and the Biden administration agreed to the settlement, according to the joint motion to approve it.

The ACLU filed the class action lawsuit in 2017 during the Trump administration on behalf of 1,400 Iraqi people, many of whom had been arrested by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement without warning and threatened with immediate deportation. Many had been living in the U.S. for decades but had previously been ordered to be deported, either for technical immigration violations or for past convictions. The Iraqi government had refused to issue travel documents, so the U.S. could not deport them.

In 2017, ICE arrested hundreds of Iraqis with old removal orders with the intention of deporting them. More than 100 were from Metro Detroit. The ACLU argued this could result in injury, torture, or death to the Iraqis who were deported and asked for time to reopen the immigration cases, which the court allowed. The court also ruled in 2018 that detention be individually assessed and for those in custody longer than six months to be released.

The federal government appealed the rulings, but the class action lawsuit allowed hundreds of Iraqis to be released from detention while pursuing their immigration cases. Many have been granted asylum or legal residence, and some, like the lead plaintiff Sam Hamama, are now U.S. citizens.

“It is time to close this case and provide our immigrant population with a clear and fair process for staying in this country,” Hamama said in a statement. “Everyone deserves a chance to live out their American Dream. In November of 2020, I became a proud citizen of the United States of America. Today, I am still in southeastern Michigan running my family business and appreciating every day that I have with my wife and my four beautiful children.”

The settlement agreement would apply to all Iraqi nationals in the United States who had final orders of removal between March 1, 2017, and June 24, 2017, and whose final orders of removal from that period had not been executed. It limits why, when, and for how long Iraqi nationals in the class can be detained during and after removal proceedings. It does not impact any individual immigration cases or the government’s ability to deport people if they lose their case.

“Too often, immigrants are locked up for months or years for absolutely no reason other than they want what so many of us have already, the chance to build a life in America,” Miriam Aukerman, senior staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said in a statement. “The proposed settlement will help prevent the needless detention of people fighting to stay with their families and remain in their communities, rather than being removed to Iraq, where they may face persecution, torture, or even death.”