I spent many hours over the past few weeks visiting people the Trump administration wants to send to Iraq, a place some of them say they have no connection to. About 80 individuals were held in an immigration detention facility in Florence. All of them live in other states and were being kept far away from family and friends, the networks they need to help them stay in the U.S.
In late May, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began rounding up hundreds of people the U.S. government says are Iraqi nationals and arranging for their immediate deportation. According to public court records, ICE gathered detainees in Florence in anticipation of a scheduled June flight from Arizona to Baghdad. This plan was derailed on June 15 when the ACLU of Michigan, the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, and their partners initiated a lawsuit, Hamama v. Adducci. In late July, the case resulted in a temporary, nationwide halt on the deportations of 1,400 people, including those who were detained in Florence. My visits to Florence helped the ACLU build its case to win this reprieve, which will last at least three months.
Most of the Florence detainees received a removal order long ago but the U.S. government elected not to deport them—both for humanitarian reasons and because of the Iraqi government’s unwillingness to repatriate people from the U.S. In light of that diplomatic impasse, many of these individuals were released from ICE custody and went on to marry, raise families, build businesses and otherwise settle in the U.S.
Indeed, most of the Florence detainees were not expecting or prepared for what they now face. Some of them were told that they would almost certainly never be deported. Some came to the U.S. as young children and have no memory of the country to which they may be sent. Many of them originally came to the U.S. lawfully as refugees, fleeing religious and political persecution.
The repatriation deadlock was resolved in March, however, when Iraq agreed to accept the deportees in exchange for the Trump administration dropping Iraq from a list of countries included in a travel ban, according to news reports (The New York Times, Mother Jones, NPR). As a result, the Trump administration began detaining people and shipping them to facilities like the for-profit CoreCivic center in Florence.
In Florence, civil detainees were locked up in a prison-like building. They were restricted from using the phone and were not allowed internet access. This made it nearly impossible to maintain regular contact with attorneys and family members.
The recent ruling halting deportations gave every person detained in Florence, and the many others held across the country who face removal to Iraq, a fairer chance of fighting their deportations by giving them more time to get their day in court.
But many of the Florence detainees have since been moved again, cutting off relationships they were developing with attorneys, like me, and further hampering their ability to challenge their deportations.
Many of these individuals believe that their deportation to war-torn Iraq, where any affiliation with the U.S. is enough for a person to be killed, is quite literally a matter of life and death. This is especially true because many of them have little or no memory of Iraq, possess no knowledge of its cultural or legal systems, and have no remaining family in the country.
The Trump administration should reverse course. The U.S. should not be separating people from their families and send them into dangerous territories.