Cash or custody: Israel kicks off deportation of African migrants

African migrants wait in line for the opening of the Population and Immigration Authority office in Bnei Brak, Israel February 4, 2018. Picture taken February 4, 2018

By Maayan Lubell and Elana Ringler

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel has started handing out notices to 20,000 male African migrants giving them two months to leave the country or risk being thrown in jail.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is offering the migrants, most of whom are from Sudan and Eritrea, $3,500 and a plane ticket to what it says is a safe destination in another country in sub-Saharan Africa.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel is posing a moral dilemma for a state founded as haven for Jews from persecution and a national home. The right-wing government is under pressure from its nationalist voter base to expel the migrants, while others are calling for them to be taken in.

The government says the migrants are “infiltrators” looking for work rather than asylum, but there is a growing liberal backlash against the plan, including from rabbis, a small group of survivors of the Nazi Holocaust and ordinary people who say Israel should show greater compassion to the migrants.

The first eviction notices were handed out on Sunday and job advertisements for immigration inspectors to implement the deportation plan have been posted on government websites.

Rights groups advocating on behalf of the migrants say many fled abuse and war and their expulsion, even to a different country in Africa, would endanger them further.

“I don’t know what to do. Rwanda, Uganda are not my countries, what will a third country help me?” said Eritrean Berihu Ainom, after receiving an eviction notice on Sunday.

The deportation notices do not name the country migrants will be flown to but Netanyahu has said it will be a safe destination. Rights groups have named Uganda and Rwanda as possible host countries.

In a poor neighborhood in the south of Tel Aviv that has attracted thousands of African migrants, shops are dotted with signs in Tigrinya and other African languages while abandoned warehouses have been converted into churches.

“I came to Israel to save my life,” said Eritrean Afoworki Kidane, sitting on a street bench.

He said he would rather go to jail than take the cash and plane ticket on offer to leave the country that has been his home for nine years.

BACKLASH BUILDING

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said Israel’s first obligation was to its own citizens, rather than the migrants.

“They are not numbers, they are people, they are human and I am full of compassion and mercy,” Deri told Army Radio. “But the small state of Israel cannot contain such a vast number of illegal infiltrators.”

But opposition to the plan has been building and some Israelis are now offering to take migrants at risk of expulsion into their homes.

On Thursday, a group of 36 Holocaust survivors sent a letter to Netanyahu asking him not to deport the migrants. The U.S.-based Anti Defamation League has also urged Israel to reconsider the plan, citing “Jewish values and refugee heritage”.

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, chairman of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and a Holocaust survivor, said in a statement the issue required “as much compassion, empathy and mercy that can possibly be marshalled. The experiences of the Jewish people over the ages underscore this commitment.”

Rabbi Susan Silverman has launched a campaign called Miklat Israel (Israel Shelter) for Israelis to take migrants into their homes.

“It’s unconscionable for the Jewish state to deport people to harrowing vulnerability,” she said.

Miklat Israel’s Rabbi Tamara Schagas said 600 Israeli families had already signed up and the organization would begin to connect migrants with potential hosts this week.

MORAL COMPASS

The Supreme Court ruled in August that Israeli authorities can hold illegal migrants for up to 60 days in custody.

Immigration officials have said women, children and men with families in Israel were allowed to stay for now, as was anyone with outstanding asylum requests.

Out of 6,800 requests reviewed so far, Israel has granted refugee status to 11 migrants. It has at least 8,000 more requests to process.

Israeli authorities have said Israeli officials will keep in touch with migrants accepted in a third country to oversee their progress. Rwanda has said it will only accept migrants who have left Israel of their own free will.

Nonetheless, the U.N.’s refugee agency has urged Israel to reconsider, saying migrants who have relocated to sub-Saharan Africa in the past few years were unsafe and ended up on the perilous migrant trail to Europe, some suffering abuse, torture and even perishing on the way.

Rights groups in Israel say the government is simply ridding itself of people it should be recognizing as refugees in Israel and that there was no real guarantee for their safety.

A fence Israel has built over the past few years along its border with Egypt has all but stopped African migrants from entering the country illegally. Beginning in the previous decade, when the border was porous, a total of 64,000 Africans made it to Israel though thousands have since left.

Emmanuel Asfaha from Eritrea crossed into Israel in 2011 with his wife and baby son. His second child was born in Israel.

A narrow grocery store stockroom stacked with bags of flour leads to their two-room apartment in Tel Aviv, a poster of Jesus hanging on the cracked walls above his son’s bed. Asfaha is concerned Israel will eventually deport families too.

“I am worried about the situation,” he said while cooking Shiro, a traditional stew. “Tomorrow it will be for me also.”

A few kilometers away, in a hip, upscale part of Tel Aviv, Ben Yefet, a 39-year-old stockbroker, said he had signed up with Miklat Israel to house two or three migrants in his two-room apartment.

“As Israelis and Jews we are obligated. We have a moral compass, we just have to do it,” he said.

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Jeffrey Heller and David Clarke)

Trump administration demands documents from ‘sanctuary cities’

People visit the Liberty State Island as Lower Manhattan is seen at the background in New York, U.S., August 17, 2017.

By Sarah N. Lynch

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration on Wednesday escalated its battle with so-called sanctuary cities that protect illegal immigrants from deportation, demanding documents on whether local law enforcement agencies are illegally withholding information from U.S. immigration authorities.

The Justice Department said it was seeking records from 23 jurisdictions — including America’s three largest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, as well as three states, California, Illinois and Oregon — and will issue subpoenas if they do not comply fully and promptly.

The administration has accused sanctuary cities of violating a federal law that prohibits local governments from restricting information about the immigration status of people arrested from being shared with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency.

Many of the jurisdictions have said they already are in full compliance with the law. Some sued the administration after the Justice Department threatened to cut off millions of dollars in federal public safety grants. The cities have won in lower courts, but the legal fight is ongoing.

The Republican president’s fight with the Democratic-governed sanctuary cities, an issue that appeals to his hard-line conservative supporters, began just days after he took office last year when he signed an executive order saying he would block certain funding to municipalities that failed to cooperate with federal immigration authorities. The order has since been partially blocked by a federal court.

“Protecting criminal aliens from federal immigration authorities defies common sense and undermines the rule of law,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement.

Democratic mayors fired back, and some including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio decided to skip a previously planned meeting on Wednesday afternoon at the White House with Trump.

“The Trump Justice Department can try to intimidate us with legal threats, but we will never abandon our values as a welcoming city or the rights of Chicago residents,” Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. “The Trump administration’s actions undermine public safety by jeopardizing our philosophy of community policing, as they attempt to drive a wedge between immigrant communities and the police who serve them.”

IMMIGRATION CRACKDOWN

The issue is part of Trump’s broader immigration crackdown. As a candidate, he threatened to deport all roughly 11 million of them. As president, he has sought to step up arrests of illegal immigrants, rescinded protections for hundreds of thousands of immigrants brought into the country illegally as children and issued orders blocking entry of people from several Muslim-majority countries.

Other jurisdictions on the Justice Department’s list include: Denver; San Francisco; the Washington state county that includes Seattle; Louisville, Kentucky; California’s capital Sacramento; New York’s capital Albany, Mississippi’s capital Jackson; West Palm Beach, Florida; the county that includes Albuquerque, New Mexico; and others.

The Justice Department said certain sanctuary cities such as Philadelphia were not on its list due to pending litigation.

On Twitter on Wednesday, De Blasio objected to the Justice Department’s decision to, in his words, “renew their racist assault on our immigrant communities. It doesn’t make us safer and it violates America’s core values.”

“The White House has been very clear that we don’t support sanctuary cities,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that mayors cannot “pick and choose what laws they want to follow.”

The Justice Department last year threatened to withhold certain public safety grants to sanctuary cities if they failed to adequately share information with ICE, prompting legal battles in Chicago, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

In the Chicago case, a federal judge issued a nationwide injunction barring the Justice Department from withholding this grant money on the grounds that its action was likely unconstitutional. This funding is typically used to help local police improve crime-fighting techniques, buy equipment and assist crime victims.

The Justice Department is appealing that ruling. It said that litigation has stalled the issuance of these grants for fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Makini Brice; Editing by Will Dunham)

U.S. judge halts deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals

FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook/File Photo

By Steve Friess

DETROIT (Reuters) – A federal judge in Michigan halted on Monday the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals from the United States, the latest legal victory for the Iraqi nationals facing deportation in a closely watched case.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted a preliminary injunction requested by American Civil Liberties Union lawyers, who argued the immigrants would face persecution in Iraq because they are considered ethnic and religious minorities there.

Goldsmith said the injunction provides detainees time to challenge their removal in federal courts. He said many of them faced “a feverish search for legal assistance” after their deportation orders were unexpectedly resurrected by the U.S. government after several years.

Goldsmith wrote, in his 34-page opinion and order, the extra time assures “that those who might be subjected to grave harm and possible death are not cast out of this country before having their day in court.”

The decision effectively means no Iraqi nationals can be deported from the United States for several months.

It was not immediately known whether the U.S. government would appeal. A representative for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit was not immediately available for comment.

There are 1,444 Iraqi nationals who have final deportation orders against them in the U.S., although only about 199 of them were detained in June as part of a nationwide sweep by immigration authorities.

The ACLU sued on June 15 to halt the deportations, arguing the Iraqis could face persecution, torture, or death because many were Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds and that the groups were recognized as targets of ill-treatment in Iraq.

Those arrested by immigration authorities had outstanding deportation orders and many had been convicted of serious crimes, ranging from homicide to weapons and drug charges, the U.S. government said.

Goldsmith sided with the ACLU, expanding on June 26 an earlier stay which only protected 114 detainees from the Detroit area to the broader class of more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide. Goldsmith’s Monday decision came hours before that injunction was set to expire.

The ACLU argued many Iraqi detainees have had difficulty obtaining critical government documents needed to file deportation order appeals, and also that the government has transferred many detainees to facilities in different parts of the country, separating them from their lawyers and families.

Under Goldsmith’s ruling, immigration authorities must provide the ACLU with bi-weekly reports about each Iraqi that include where they are detained.

On Friday, a federal prosecutor told Goldsmith his injunction was not necessary because many of the detainees were appealing final deportation orders through immigration court.

The roundup of Iraqis in the Detroit area followed Iraq’s agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from Trump’s revised temporary travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.

Some of those affected came to the United States as children and committed their crimes decades ago but were allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them.

That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.

(Reporting by Steve Friess in Detroit; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Bill Trott, Michael Perry)

Exclusive: U.S. immigration raids to target teenaged suspected gang members

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Assistant Field Office Director Jorge Field (R), 53, and Field Office Director David Marin arrest a man in San Clemente, California, U.S., May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Julia Edwards Ainsley

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. immigration agents are planning nationwide raids next week to arrest, among others, teenagers who entered the country without guardians and are suspected gang members, in a widening of President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The raids are set to begin on Sunday and continue through Wednesday, according to an internal memo seen by Reuters. The teenagers targeted will be 16- and 17-years-old.

The raids represent a sharp departure from practices during the presidency of Barack Obama. Under Obama, minors could be targeted for deportation if they had been convicted of crimes, but were not arrested simply for suspected gang activity or membership.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that a person can be identified as a gang member if they meet two or more criteria, including having gang tattoos, frequenting an area notorious for gangs and wearing gang apparel.

The agency said it does not comment on plans for future law enforcement operations, but that it focuses on individuals who pose a threat to national security and public safety.

The memo instructing field offices to prepare for the raids was dated June 30. A Department of Homeland Security official speaking on background confirmed on Friday the raids were still scheduled to take place, though ICE could still change its plans.

Trump, who campaigned on the promise of tough immigration enforcement, has made deporting gang members, especially those belonging to the El Salvador-based Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a top priority.

“You have a gang called MS-13. They don’t like to shoot people. They like to cut people. They do things that nobody can believe,” Trump said at a rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa last month. In a May speech, the president promised the gang would be “gone from our streets very soon, believe me.”

‘THIS IS TROUBLING’

Although children can be deported like adults, U.S. immigration law considers minors arriving at the border without a parent or guardian particularly vulnerable and gives them additional protections.

Minors apprehended entering the country without a guardian are placed in custody arrangements by U.S. Health and Human Services, often with a family member living in the United States.

Law enforcement agencies maintain databases of individuals suspected of having gang affiliations, but the lists have come under fire from civil rights groups.

Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center in Los Angeles, said the databases often contain inaccurate information.

“This is troubling on several levels,” Hincapie said. “For one, the gang databases in places like California are rife with errors. We have seen babies labeled as potential gang members.”

Immigration lawyer David Leopold of Ulmer & Berne said innocent children could be swept up in the raids.

“In many cases, children don’t freely decide to join a gang. They are threatened by older gang members and forced to get a gang tattoo if they live in a certain neighborhood,” he said.

The raids planned for next week will also target parents who crossed the border illegally with their children and have been ordered deported by a judge, and immigrants who entered the country as children without guardians and have since turned 18, according to the memo.

The document directs field offices to identify people in their areas that meet the criteria.

The Obama administration targeted those two groups in 2016 raids that sought to deter a surge of illegal border crossings by families and minors that began in 2014.

Obama, however, directed immigration agents to prioritize for deportation only those who had committed serious crimes or had recently entered the country.

(Reporting by Julia Edwards Ainsley; Editing by Sue Horton and Ross Colvin)

House cracks down on illegal immigrants with bills backed by Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump (L) meets with immigration crime victims at the White House in Washington, U.S., June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Bills backed by U.S. President Donald Trump to crack down on illegal immigrants passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, drawing criticism from immigration activists and others who called them a threat to civil liberties.

The House voted 228-195 to pass the “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” that would withhold some federal grants to so-called “sanctuary city” jurisdictions that do not comply with certain federal immigration laws.By a vote of 257-167, the chamber also passed “Kate’s law” to increase penalties for illegal immigrants who return to the United States. It is named for Kate Steinle, who was shot dead in San Francisco in 2015. An illegal immigrant who had been deported five times was charged with her murder.

“I applaud the House for passing two crucial measures to save and protect American lives,” Trump said in a statement. “These were bills I campaigned on and that are vital to our public safety and national security.”

Both bills will need approval from the Senate to become law. Trump’s Republicans control both chambers. But Democrats assailed the measures as fear-mongering.

“Although people who illegally re-enter the country do so to reunite with their families, or to flee violence or persecution, this bill considers them all dangerous criminals who deserve lengthy prison sentences,” Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler said during debate on “Kate’s Law.”

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump demanded action against sanctuary cities, which provide some protection for illegal immigrants under laws that limit how much cooperation local police may have with federal immigration authorities.

The “No Sanctuary for Criminals Act” prohibits sanctuary cities from adopting policies that restrict police officers from asking individuals about their immigration status or the immigration status of others.

Under the laws, illegal immigrants would face mandatory detention for past convictions of an expanded number of offenses, such as driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

On Wednesday, Trump promoted both bills at the White House with speeches by parents of young people slain by people who live in, or immigrated to, the United States illegally.

(Reporting By Steve Holland and Amanda Becker; Editing by Grant McCool, Howard Goller and Diane Craft)

U.S. judge halts deportation of Iraqis nationwide

FILE PHOTO: Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By Steve Friess

DETROIT (Reuters) – A federal judge halted late on Monday the deportation of all Iraqi nationals detained during immigration sweeps across the United States this month until at least July 10, expanding a stay he imposed last week.

The stay had initially only protected 114 detainees from the Detroit area.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith sided with lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union who filed an amended complaint on Saturday seeking to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) from deporting Iraqis from anywhere in the United States.

The ACLU argued those being deported could face persecution, torture, or death because many were Chaldean Catholics, Sunni Muslims, or Iraqi Kurds and that the groups were recognized as targets of ill-treatment in Iraq.

Goldsmith agreed with the ACLU on the grave consequences deportees may face, writing in his seven-page opinion and order that: “Such harm far outweighs any interest the Government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately.”

On Thursday, Goldsmith ordered a stay in the Michigan Iraqis’ deportation for at least two weeks while he decided whether he had jurisdiction over the merits of deporting immigrants who could face physical danger in their countries of origin.

He expanded his stay on Monday to the broader class of Iraqi nationals nationwide, saying it applies to the removal of all Iraqi nationals in the United States with final orders of removal who have been or will be detained by ICE.

There are 1,444 Iraqi nationals who have final deportation orders against them, although only 199 of them were detained as part of a nationwide sweep by immigration authorities, federal prosecutors said in court on Monday.

Those detained had convictions for serious crimes, including rape and kidnapping, ICE said.

Goldsmith also said his stays were designed to give detainees time to find legal representation to appeal against their deportation orders, and to give him time to weigh the question of his jurisdiction.

Daniel Lemisch, acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, called the opinion “highly extraordinary.”

“But it’s a very extraordinary circumstance because of the on-the-ground situation in Iraq,” Lemisch said by phone, referring to the danger faced by possible deportees.

ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt praised the ruling for saying that “the lives of these individuals should not depend on what part of the United States they reside and whether they could find a lawyer to file a federal court action.”

Goldsmith’s order came the same day the U.S. Supreme Court handed a victory to President Donald Trump by reviving parts of a travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority countries.

The roundup in Michigan followed Iraq’s agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from Trump’s revised temporary travel ban.

Some of those affected came to the United States as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them.

That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.

(Reporting by Steve Friess in Detroit; Editing by Eric M. Johnson, Bill Trott and Paul Tait)

U.S. court hears challenge on Texas law to punish ‘sanctuary cities’

A protester against the Texas state law to punish "sanctuary cities" stands outside the U.S. Federal court in San Antonio, Texas,

By Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) – A small border town and some of the largest cities in Texas will ask a federal judge on Monday to block a new state law to punish “sanctuary cities,” arguing it promotes racial profiling, diverts resources from police and is unconstitutional.

The Republican-backed law in Texas, the U.S. state with the longest border with Mexico, takes effect on Sept. 1. It is the first of its kind since Republican Donald Trump became president in January, promising to crack down on illegal immigration.

Luis Vera, an attorney for the League Of United Latin American Citizens, one of the numerous plaintiffs in the suit, said the bill was signed despite opposition from several police chiefs across Texas and the state’s large Latino population.

“No one in the history of the United States has ever attempted this in any state. That’s why the whole world is watching us right now,” Vera said in an interview.

The law known as Senate Bill 4 calls for jail time for police chiefs and sheriffs who fail to cooperate in U.S. immigration enforcement. The measure also allows police to ask about immigration status during a lawful detention.

Supporters have said immigrants who do not break the law have nothing to fear. Critics contend it allows police to detain people for up to 48 hours for immigration checks, even for minor infractions such as jaywalking.

“It is absurd, it is offensive, when people say sanctuary cities make us safe. They allow hardened criminals to hide in plain sight,” Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick told reporters last week.

The hearing in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in San Antonio will be before Judge Orlando Garcia.

In a separate case this month, Garcia cast doubt on the legality of some Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainer requests at the heart of the law, saying there are times when they can violate the U.S. Constitution.

A detainer is a request by immigration officials for a jurisdiction to continue to hold a person in custody, usually for no more than 48 hours, to check if they can be handed over to ICE for potential deportation.On Friday, The Trump administration filed court papers to support the Texas state law and is seeking to argue in court hearings in favor of the legislation it says will help keep America safe.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz and Jim Forsyth; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

Judge in Michigan blocks deportation of 100 Iraqis

Protesters rally outside the federal court just before a hearing to consider a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of Iraqi nationals facing deportation, in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

By Dan Levine

(Reuters) – A U.S. judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the deportation of about 100 Iraqi nationals rounded up in Michigan in recent weeks who argued that they could face persecution or torture in Iraq because they are religious minorities.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Michigan issued an order staying the deportation of the Iraqis for at least two weeks as he decides whether he has jurisdiction over the matter. Goldsmith said it was unclear whether the Iraqis would ultimately succeed.

The arrests shocked the close-knit Iraqi community in Michigan. Six Michigan lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives urged the government to hold off on the removals until Congress can be given assurances about the deportees’ safety.

The Michigan arrests were part of a coordinated sweep in recent weeks by immigration authorities who detained about 199 Iraqi immigrants around the country. They had final deportation orders and convictions for serious crimes.

The roundup followed Iraq’s agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from President Donald Trump’s revised temporary travel ban.

Some of those affected came to the United States as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them. That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.

A U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.

Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the Iraqis in Michigan, said: “The court’s action today was legally correct and may very well have saved numerous people from abuse and possible death.”

The U.S. government has argued that the district court does not have jurisdiction over the case. Only immigration courts can decide deportation issues, which can then only be reviewed by an appeals court, it said.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said that people with convictions for murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, burglary and drugs and weapons charges were among the Iraqis arrested nationwide.

The ACLU argued that many of those affected in Michigan are Chaldean Catholics who are “widely recognized as targets of brutal persecution in Iraq.”

Some Kurdish Iraqis were also picked up in Nashville, Tennessee. In a letter on Thursday, Tennessee Representative Jim Cooper, a Democrat, asked the Iraqi ambassador whether Iraq would be able to ensure safe passage for them if they were returned.

(Reporting by Dan Levine in San Francisco and Eric Walsh in Washington; Editing by David Alexander and Cynthia Osterman)

U.S. arrests nearly 200 Iraqis in deportation sweep

Chaldean-Americans protest against the seizure of family members Sunday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents during a rally outside the Mother of God Chaldean church in Southfield, Michigan, U.S., June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

DETROIT (Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities have arrested and moved to deport 199 Iraqi immigrants, mostly from the Detroit area, in the last three weeks after Iraq agreed to accept deportees as part of a deal removing it from President Donald Trump’s travel ban, officials said on Wednesday.

In the Detroit area, 114 Iraqi nationals were arrested over the weekend, and 85 throughout the rest of the country over the past several weeks, Gillian Christensen, a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The actions came as part of the Trump administration’s push to increase immigration enforcement and make countries, which have resisted in the past, take back nationals ordered deported from the United States.

The crackdown on Iraqi immigrants followed the U.S. government’s decision to drop Iraq from a list of Muslim-majority nations targeted by a revised version of Trump’s temporary travel ban issued in March.

The overwhelming majority of those arrested had criminal convictions for crimes including murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons violations and other offenses, Christensen said.

As of April 17, 2017, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders for removal, she said. Since the March 12 agreement with Iraq regarding deportees, eight Iraqi nationals have been removed to Iraq.

Dozens of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics in Detroit were among those targeted in the immigration sweeps, some of whom fear they will be killed if deported to their home country, immigration attorneys and family members said.

“It is very worrisome that ICE has signaled its intention to remove Chaldean Christians to Iraq where their safety not only cannot be guaranteed, but where they face persecution and death for their religious beliefs,” Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Kurdish Iraqis also were picked up in Nashville, Tennessee, attorneys, activists and family members said.

At least some of those arrested came to the United States as children, got in trouble and already served their sentences, according to immigration attorneys and activists. Some have lived in the United States so long they no longer speak Arabic.

An Iraqi official previously said Iraqi diplomatic and consular missions would coordinate with U.S. authorities to issue travel documents for the deportees.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman; Editing by Tom Brown)

U.S. immigration targets some Iraqis for deportation in wake of travel ban deal

The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Fugitive Operations team is seen in Santa Ana, California, U.S

By Mica Rosenberg

(Reuters) – U.S. immigration authorities are arresting Iraqi immigrants ordered deported for serious crimes, the U.S. government said on Monday, after Iraq agreed to accept U.S. deportees as part of a deal to remove it from President Donald Trump’s travel ban.

“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” said Gillian Christensen, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Christensen said the agency recently arrested a number of individuals, all of whom had criminal convictions for violations ranging from homicide to drug charges and had been ordered removed by an immigration judge. She declined to give more details, citing the ongoing nature of the operation.

Trump has said more countries need to take back nationals ordered deported from the United States and has pledged to increase immigration enforcement.

Al-Hamza Al-Jamaly, the attache at the Iraqi Embassy in Washington said Iraqi diplomatic and consular missions would coordinate with U.S. authorities to issue travel documents for the deportees “that we can prove to be ‘Iraqi’ based on our records and investigation.”

Attorneys, activists and family members told Reuters that ICE officials had arrested dozens of people in the Chaldean Catholic community in Detroit, Michigan and Kurdish Iraqis in Nashville, Tennessee over the weekend and last week.

Many in the communities have been in the United States for decades and were blindsided by the roundups.

Reuters could not independently confirm all of the cases.

The moves come after the U.S. government dropped Iraq from a list of countries targeted by a revised version of Trump’s temporary travel ban issued in March.

The March 6 order said Iraq was taken off the list because the Iraqi government had taken steps “to enhance travel documentation, information sharing, and the return of Iraqi nationals subject to final orders of removal.”

There are approximately 1,400 Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal currently in the United States, according to U.S. officials.

Iraq had previously been considered one of 23 “recalcitrant” countries, along with China, Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia and others, that refused to cooperate with ICE’s efforts to remove its nationals from the United States, according to congressional testimony by ICE Deputy Director Daniel Ragsdale.

Christensen said a deal was struck on March 12 of this year and since then, eight Iraqi nationals had been removed to the country.

At least some of the people who were picked up came to the United States as children, got in trouble years ago and already served their sentences, according to immigration attorneys and local activists. They had been given an effective reprieve from deportation because Iraq would not take them back.

“Suddenly after years of living their lives, and getting past that, they’re being greeted by ICE at the door saying that they’re going to be deported to Iraq,” said Drost Kokoye, a Kurdish-American community organizer in Nashville, home to the largest Kurdish population in the United States.

TRUMP SUPPORTERS

Some of the weekend arrests took place in Michigan’s Macomb County, which Trump won by 53.6 percent in the 2016 Presidential race, backed by many in the Iraqi Christian community.

At least one family of Trump supporters has been affected by the recent enforcement actions.

Nahrain Hamama said ICE agents came to her house on Sunday morning and arrested her 54-year-old husband Usama Hamama, a supermarket manager who goes by “Sam.” He has lived in the United States since childhood and has four U.S.-born children. During the election, all his U.S. citizen relatives were Trump supporters, Hamama said.

“He forgot his language, he doesn’t speak Arabic anymore. We have no family there on both sides. Where would he go? What would he do? How would he live?” Hamama said. She fears for his health and that he will be targeted by groups in Iraq because of his religion, made more visible because of a cross tattooed on his wrist.

Sam got in trouble with the law in his 20s, in what his wife called a “road rage” incident where he brandished a gun during a fight in traffic. He served time in prison and was ordered deported after being released. For the past seven years he has regularly checked in with immigration officials, his wife said. “It is a shame that for one mistake, that he paid for legally, now he has to pay with his own life.”

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg in New York; additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington, Timothy Mclaughlin in Chicago, and Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Andrew Hay)