BY JEFF KAROUB, ASSOCIATED PRESS
DETROIT, MICHIGAN (AP) — Lindsey Hamama has one gift on her Christmas list: to have her father home. A federal judge in Detroit is mulling whether to release her father, Usama "Sam" Hamama, who was apprehended by immigration officials as part of a roundup in June, and hundreds of others whose deportations to Iraq were suspended but remain in custody.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who will hear arguments Wednesday, blocked the deportation of 1,400 people in July to allow time to challenge their removal in immigration court. About 275 people are jailed or in detention centers in roughly two dozen states.
Government officials say the detainees — whose arrests came amid broader, aggressive immigration policies by the Trump administration — have committed crimes in the U.S. and must be deported now that Iraq will accept them. Advocates say the detainees — many of whom are Christians who fear being tortured or killed if deported — paid their debt to society and deserve to be with their families as their immigration cases wend through the system.
Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security said Iraq had agreed to start allowing the return of immigrants who have been ordered out of the United States. They were allowed to stay in the country under previous administrations.
"Basically, people have been in (custody) since early June, said Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, which represents the Iraqi nationals. "It's been six months. For many of these individuals, they face many more months or years of incarceration for absolutely no reason: They were living in the community. They were reporting (to immigration officials) regularly."
Sam Hamama was among them. The Detroit-area man who became a supermarket manager was convicted in the late 1980s for felonious assault, possessing a firearm during a felony and carrying a pistol in a vehicle. Relatives and attorneys say it stemmed from a road rage incident and the gun was unloaded. Nevertheless, he was sentenced to two years in prison and was released after one.
Supporters say Hamama, who came to the United States as a child in the early 1970s, embraced his second chance: He got married, had four children, rose in business and became active in church and other community endeavors.
Lindsey Hamama, 12, was one of several relatives and friends to send letters on the elder Hamama's behalf to Goldsmith or immigration officials. Her Nov. 26 letter says she and her family were getting ready for church June 11, when agents came to the door and took her father away in handcuffs. She wrote that she recalled hearing her father would only be away for a day, "but then I saw my dad crying and I knew that when (your) dad cries you know there's something wrong." Lindsey kissed him, she wrote, "not knowing that would be the last time ... for 164 days."
"All I want for Christmas is my dad home and nothing else," her letter concluded. Aukerman said there are two matters before the court: The first existing issue is whether the court is exceeding its authority in immigration matters and has the power to prevent deportations, and the second new issue is whether it's illegal to detain people indefinitely without an opportunity to go before a judge.
The ACLU credits Goldsmith's block on deportations with successes: Every one of the 10 people whose cases have been reopened and decided by a judge has secured some kind of immigration or protection from deportation.
The government argues the case belongs in the immigration courts, not federal courts, as laid out by law. Also, it says that U.S. law allows for detention after a final removal order "unless or until there is not significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future, which is not the case here."
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said the vast majority of detainees are criminals who have been convicted of homicide, rape, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, sex assault and other offenses. They pose, immigration officials say, a "clearly public safety threat."
Advocates contend that the people faced justice, and now face threats to their lives and livelihoods. "These cases really highlight how broken our immigration system is," Aukerman said. She said the letters of support show that "you can make mistakes ... and go on and be a wonderful person."
"Lindsey Hamama is right: Her dad belongs home," Aukerman said. "We certainly hope the court will recognize that and use its power to protect the constitutional rights of these families."
Karoub is a member of AP's Race and Ethnicity Team. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jeffkaroub and find more of his work at https://apnews.com/search/jeff%20karoub .
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