Hundreds of Iraqi refugees currently detained by the U.S. federal government could be released as early as next month. A federal judge ruled Tuesday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has until Feb. 2 to show “clear and convincing evidence” that Iraqi refugees being detained are a public safety or flight risk.
U.S. Federal District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith wrote that while immigration proceedings are pending, “the aliens who were arrested have now languished in detention facilities — many for over six months — deprived of the intimacy of their families, the fellowship of their communities, and the economic opportunity to provide for themselves and their loved ones.”
The mass detentions go back to a travel ban implemented by President Donald Trump’s administration last year. While Iraq was one of the countries included in the ban, the U.S. government agreed to exclude Iraq from the ban in exchange for the Middle Eastern country allowing political and religious refugees back in the country when they are deported. The result was hundreds of refugees, with sometimes decades old criminal charges, being detained in federal facilities awaiting court proceedings.
Abbas Oda Manshad Al-Sokaini is one of them. ICE agents arrested him last June at this Albuquerque home. Al-Sokaini reportedly helped the U.S. military during the Persian Gulf War, making him a probable target for torture or death if he returned to Iraq, according to a spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico. Al-Sokaini is currently being detained in a federal prison in El Paso, Texas.
Kristin Love, a staff attorney with the ACLU of New Mexico, said Al-Sokaini and many other of the detained refugees have consistently shown up to appointments with ICE officials and continually cooperated with them.
“There’s really no evidence that any of the people in this class poses a safety risk or a flight risk,” Love said.
She could not provide specifics of Al-Sokaini’s release, only that ICE officials will have about a month to make their case that Al-Sokaini should remain in jail.
Al-Sokaini faced two drug charges almost 20 years ago. According to his wife he pleaded guilty to both charges and served six months of probation. A couple years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, ICE detained Al-Sokaini because of his previous charges, but ultimately released him with the condition he check in with immigration officials.
Love said the ACLU is now “waiting to see what the government’s next move is.”
Apparently the federal government is doing the same.
In a statement to NM Political Report, ICE officials said they are still trying to determine their next move, but hinted that they may challenge the court’s decision.
“ICE is reviewing the decision issued by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan to determine the path forward. ICE is deeply disturbed by the decision, but will comply with the decision unless and until it is reversed by an appellate court.”
According to Goldsmith’s ruling, ICE must prove detainees pose either a public safety or flight risk.