A federal court halted the deportation of more than 100 Chaldean Christians that Homeland Security had been poised to send back to their home in Iraq, as a judge dealt yet another blow to President Trump’s immigration plans.
Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, an Obama appointee to the bench, said he feared some of the Iraqis’ lives would be in danger if sent to Iraq, and said that was too much of a risk to run while he heard more extensive arguments in the case.
He issued an injunction granting a 14-day stay of deportations for all Iraqis arrested in the Detroit region recently or in the coming days.
Judge Goldsmith said the Trump administration was moving with “speed” to try to deport the Iraqis, so he felt compelled to step in to potentially save lives.
“Such harm far outweighs any conceivable interest the Government might have in the immediate enforcement of the removal orders, before this Court can clarify whether it has jurisdiction to grant relief to Petitioners on the merits of their claims,” he wrote.
The Iraqis include convicted murderers, rapists, burglars and drug traffickers who are either illegal immigrants or who came legally then committed crimes that make them deportable.
But they argued that sending them back to Iraq, where the U.S. government has said Chaldeans face genocide, is akin to a death sentence. They want to have their cases reopened so they can argue that circumstances have changed in their home countries, making their previous deportation orders null.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has arrested nearly 200 Iraqis since the start of May, including 114 in the Detroit area, which is home to a large Chaldean population. Nearly all have criminal records.
“The operation in this region was specifically conducted to address the very real public safety threat represented by the criminal aliens arrested,” Gillian Christensen, an ICE spokeswoman, said in defending the arrests last week. “The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions.”
Some Iraqis have been under deportation orders for years, but the Iraqi government refused to accept them until the Trump administration struck a deal with Iraq earlier this year for the Middle Eastern nation to start accepting its deportees again.
ICE didn’t immediately comment on the judge’s ruling Thursday.
Government lawyers had argued federal district courts had no power to review the cases, saying that under the law, the correct recourse would have been to move to reopen the cases in the immigration system or file an appeal with a circuit court.
The government didn’t argue the merits of the deportations.
Judge Goldsmith pointed out that lack of discussion in his brief ruling Thursday.
His ruling marks the latest instance where a federal judge — and, in particular, a Democratic-appointed judge — has blocked Mr. Trump’s effort to use what he sees as his lawful powers under immigration law.
Trump lawyers have argued that judges are overstepping their boundaries in claiming powers to rule on immigration cases.
Judge Goldsmith said he’s not sure yet whether he does have jurisdiction, but said it’s up to him to decide, and said he needs time to figure it out, saying “an orderly court process” is called for in this case.