The ACLU says a new appeals court decision will deny people facing deportation the right to make their case in immigration court, even if they believe deportation puts them at risk of death.
The decision is part of a case called Hamama v. Adducci. It involves hundreds of Iraqi nationals the government wants to be deported because of past criminal records or immigration violations. Many were rounded up and detained in the spring of 2017.
But groups including ACLU intervened on the Iraqis’ behalf. Last year, U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith issued a ruling pausing any possible deportations until the detainees had a chance to plead their cases in immigration court.
Many of the detainees, most of the Iraqi Christians, argued they faced the risk of persecution, torture or death if returned to Iraq. Hundreds have since made their cases in immigration court, with some of them successfully overturning orders of deportation or being released on bond while their cases proceed.
But the government appealed, and the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled this week that Goldsmith overstepped the court’s authority with that order.
The court "lacked jurisdiction over the removal-based claims because [federal law] plainly reserves for the Attorney General the authority to execute removal orders,” the Sixth Circuit ruled by a 2-1 margin. "These orders are not subject to judicial review."
The Sixth Circuit also ruled that Goldsmith did not have jurisdiction to order the detainees be given bond hearings on a class-wide basis.
"Additionally, the district court lacked jurisdiction over the detention-based claims because [the law] unambiguously strips federal courts of the authority to enter class-wide injunctive relief, as the district court did in this case," the majority wrote.
Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the Michigan ACLU, decried the Sixth Circuit ruling.
"It’s an appalling decision," Aukerman says. "People will die if this decision is allowed to stand. It’s a very dangerous thing to say courts are powerless to stop deportations, and that’s really what’s at stake here."
Not all the Iraqis in the current case will face the immediate threat of deportation. Some have already won their cases in immigration court. And the Sixth Circuit decision doesn’t take effect immediately.
Aukerman says there are also serious questions about whether Iraq will even accept involuntary deportations from the U.S., calling into a question a deal reached between the two governments early last year.
"Iraq actually is opposed to involuntary repatriations, recognizing that these individuals face incredible danger if they’re returned, and therefore had been unwilling to accept their forced removal,” says Aukerman, noting that could change in the future.
Aukerman couldn’t say if the ACLU plans to appeal the Sixth Circuit decision, but that "There will certainly be further legal proceedings."
"We are looking at all our appellate options,” she says. "The stakes here are tremendously, tremendously high. Couldn’t be higher."