A new lawsuit brought by 114 Iraqi nationals, who are in detention and scheduled for imminent deportation from the United States, invokes the international treaty against torture - and could have far-reaching consequences for thousands of other foreign nationals.
The Iraqis, who have all been accused of or convicted of various crimes, are not appealing their deportation orders per se, but are asking for the right to contest those orders in court on the grounds that returning to Iraq would place them in mortal danger.
Most of the Iraqis are Chaldean Christians and some are Shi'ite Muslims; both groups face persecution in their native Iraq.
Last week, U.S. District Court of Michigan Judge Mark Goldsmith granted a temporary stay not only to the Iraqi immigrants who brought the suit in Detroit but to 1,400 Iraqis nationwide, who face deportation.
Goldsmith ruled that he needed two weeks to decide whether he has jurisdiction over the case or whether it belongs in immigration court.
If Goldsmith determines he does not have jurisdiction, the immigrants will be put on a plane to Iraq.
But if he rules that he does, it would mean moving forward with a lawsuit that tests the government's duty to protect people under the international Convention against Torture.
The case is really fascinating, Jayesh Rathod, an immigration law professor at American University's Washington College of Law, told VOA. You would have a federal judge looking at this international obligation and using that obligation to control the actions that ICE (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) takes or doesn't take with respect to people who have deportation orders.
Up until very recently, Iraq would not accept citizens who were deported by the U.S. That changed after the administration of President Donald Trump issued its first order restricting travel in January. The order banned travel from seven countries, including Iraq.
Rather than be included in the travel order, Iraq negotiated a repatriation agreement with the U.S. government and when the revised order was issued, Iraq was no longer on the list.
Since then, immigration agents have been rounding up Iraqi foreign nationals, who have committed crimes and consequently are under deportation orders.
An ICE spokesperson said in an email to VOA, that the Iraqis who have been detained are part of an effort to process the backlog of these individuals, which is a decision which resulted from recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq that has agreed to accept a number of its nationals subject to orders of removal.
ICE said the people arrested have final removal orders and the overwhelming majority have criminal convictions for serious crimes.
Source: Voice of America