Justin Hanna, a Michigan attorney representing Iraqi Christian detainees, said that sending these individuals back to Iraq violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture, and that emergency motions have been filed on their behalf to reopen their cases to prevent them from being deported. Motions have also been filed to stay their cases so they’re not deported in the meantime.
“The Convention Against Torture … it’s not optional, it’s mandatory that the U.S. does not send or deport an individual back to a country where there is likelihood that they will be tortured or persecuted,” Hanna said.
The U.S. government argues that conditions have improved in Iraq and that there isn’t likelihood of either torture or persecution. But Hanna insisted that even though ISIS has been losing territory in Iraq, conditions will still be dangerous for the detainees: “There’s still likelihood that these people will be persecuted and tortured to the extent that they’re minority Christians and that they’ll be seen as supporting Western governments and having been Westernized to the point where the people that live in Iraq would persecute them.”
Many detainees came to the U.S. when they were young, and are well into their 50s and 60s now. In some cases, they’ve lived in the U.S. for up to 50 years. “A lot of these people don’t speak the [Arabic] language anymore, or never did,” said Hanna. Although Arabic is the majority language of Iraq, it is not a native tongue for some minority groups.
Take 57-year-old Laith Francis, for instance, who left Iraq with his family when he was just four years old. On June 11, he was taken from his home in Walled Lake, Michigan, by two ICE agents who said he was being brought in for routine questioning. Instead, they pulled over on the side of the road and handcuffed him. Francis now waits in the Youngstown detention center, where he’s allowed two phone calls a day.
Laith was charged with possession in 1991, a crime for which he was convicted and served time. Lawyers and family members believe that his orders for deportation have been in place for years, as have orders for many of those currently being detained by ICE. The orders previously did not go through because it was deemed too unsafe to send individuals back to Iraq, but they are going through now that the Trump administration deems the country safe enough.
“Our whole family is very hurt,” said his sister Joanne Francis, who hasn’t heard from her brother in several days. “Everybody is praying that they let him out. This was unexpected.”
Just two months ago, Laith had major surgery and is still recovering. His sister was taking care of him up until his arrest. Laith was the only member of their family who did not get U.S. citizenship, and Joanne fears for his future.
“Laith has a cross tattoo on his arm and doesn’t speak Arabic,” she said. “Iraq is the last place he should be. He’ll be tortured and killed.”