Let these people ‘get back to their American lives’

Iraqis being held in Michigan’s Calhoun County Jail are treated the same as other prisoners, including being denied in-person visits with their family. In addition, previous filings in the case show a pattern of jail and ICE personnel using punishments—including solitary confinement for small infractions—as a way to pressure detainees to agree to deportation.

Darrow repeated the government’s claim that there is an agreement with the Iraqi government to repatriate the detainees, whether or not the detainees themselves volunteer to go. ICE’s contention that Iraq is willing to accept the detainees is based on a series of memos and emails beginning in March 2017, about a meeting between the U.S. Secretary of State’s office and an official said to be from Iraq’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

However, according to both ACLU attorneys present during the hearing and the Oct. 24 BuzzFeed report on the unsealed documents, Iraq has stood firm on its position that it will not accept detainees who are unwilling to be returned. According to BuzzFeed, ICE director Thomas Homan himself called the Iraqi ambassador to the U.S. in 2017 to beg him to accept a flight of Iraqi detainees—and was refused via email.

During the hearing, ACLU attorneys said that ICE had become so irritated with Iraq’s refusal to back down on the subject of consent that in July 2017, the agency drafted a recommendation to enact visa sanctions against the country.

When asked by Daily Kos whether the government has any proof from the Iraqi government itself about its willingness to accept the detainees against their will, an ICE attorney referred the question to the agency’s spokesman. In a subsequent email, the spokesman, Khaalid Walls, said that ICE, “does not comment on pending litigation.”

ACLU attorney Margo Schlanger, however, said “we have a lot of Iraqi official statements saying they have a long-standing policy and practice of denying involuntary repatriations. We think the Iraqi government is much less willing to do this than the U.S. government is claiming in court.”

During a press briefing after the hearing, Aukerman said that she feels fortunate to be working with the detainees and their families. Before being detained, she said, the Iraqis were valued members of their communities.

“These are people who want to get back to their American lives,” she said.

Dawn Wolfe is a freelance writer and journalist based in Ann Arbor, Mich. If you ‘d like to help support more stories like this through our freelance program, contribute here.

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