This week, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is expected to release many of the roughly 100 Iraqis it has detained since the summer of 2017.
That's after a federal judge gave the government a deadline of December 20th to let them go.
In a scathing opinion, the judge said the government knew it would not be able to deport the detainees, because Iraq wouldn't accept them. The judge said government attorneys made false statements to justify keeping the detainees locked up indefinitely.
Miriam Aukerman is with the American Civil Liberties Union. In an interview with Stateside, she characterized the government's stance:
"ICE said, 'We can lock people up and throw away the key, it doesn't matter how long it takes. We're going to lock you up until we break your spirit so that you agree to go to a country where you might well die,'" she said.
Aukerman says many of the detainees are Chaldean Christians, and many have been living peacefully in the U.S. for decades. Many also had committed no crimes other than staying beyond the expiration of their visas.
She says being deported to Iraq would have put the detainees in grave danger, whether because they were members of a minority religion, because of their ethnicity, because they had no friends or family in Iraq and didn't speak the language, or simply because they would have been perceived as American.
Aukerman says the government has notified attorneys that it will not meet the December 20th deadline for all of the detainees, and will petition the government to allow it to keep some of them indefinitely. An ICE spokesman has not yet confirmed this. Aukerman says the ACLU and other attorneys will keep fighting until every one of the Iraqis has been released.