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ACLU Alleges Its Clients Are Being Abused in ICE Custody

PBS News Hour / CC 2.0

The American Civil Liberties Union is alleging that its clients are facing “a series of abuses” at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), purportedly due to the detainees’ involvement in an ACLU class-action lawsuit.

In a blog post on Thursday, the ACLU’s Rebecca Wallace, Sara Neel and Arash Jahanian explain how detained Iraqi men, clients of the ACLU, “have been singled out and denied food, water, and access to the restroom.”

“One man, who came to the United States as a refugee in 1976, reflected that if he goes back to Iraq, he will be tortured and killed. Still, he feels that his experiences at the hands of ICE are ‘a different way of torture,’ ” the blog states. “ICE guards in Arizona and Colorado have openly pressured Iraqi nationals to sign away their right to fight their immigration cases. Some guards told the detainees that their situations were hopeless and urged them to sign forms agreeing to voluntary deportation, without counsel present.”

The “brave men” the ACLU cites in the blog are participants in a class-action lawsuit against the Trump administration.

“In March, Trump struck a deal with the Iraqi government: If that government accepted individuals deported from the United States, he would omit Iraq from the list of six Muslim-majority countries banned from traveling to the U.S.,” the ACLU notes. “In May, ICE began making mass arrests of Iraqis with open removal orders with the intent to deport them immediately.”

But in July, the ACLU’s Iraqi clients secured a stay of this order from a federal judge.

“The judge said the court needed additional time to determine whether the court has jurisdiction over the case in the first place, according to court documents,” CNN explains. It continues:

Shortly after the initial stay was granted, the ACLU asked to expand the class-action lawsuit to cover all Iraqi nationals in the US with final orders of removal for deportation. The judge granted their request, expanding the temporary stay on June 26 to cover this group of 1,444 Iraqi nationals on June 26. Eighty-five of them face deportation when the stay is lifted, according to court documents.

While the stay is in place, Iraqi nationals, both those being held in detention centers and those still going about their normal lives but who have final orders of removal, are able to take their case before an immigration court judge and argue why they believe they should be allowed to stay in the U.S.

Many of those detained are Chaldean Christians, a religious and ethnic minority, as well as Iraqi Kurds. Both groups would face extreme persecution if sent back to Iraq. On top of this, all of the men fear violence from Islamic State because they have now spent time living in the United States.

“Since the court’s ruling, ICE appears to have ramped up its efforts to make the lives of Iraqis in custody so unbearable that they will ‘voluntarily’ sign away their rights to reopen their immigration cases or pursue asylum,” the ACLU writes. “It is tragic that these individuals, who fear persecution in Iraq because of their religion and connection to America, are now being persecuted by agents of the United States government.”

At a court hearing in Detroit on Thursday, lawyers for the detained Iraqis asked Judge Mark Goldsmith to order ICE to stop threatening the detainees. Miriam Aukerman, a lawyer with the ACLU of Michigan, told Goldsmith that Iraqi detainees are feeling pressured “to give up their rights.”

“In a status report filed with the court, attorneys wrote of what they called ‘coercive effects of detention.’ It says that some of the detainees are being ‘abused or harassed … told that they will suffer in prolonged detention if they get a lawyer,’ ” the Detroit Free Press reports. ‘ICE employees, contractors, and agents … are misrepresenting this litigation and the detainees’ rights’ when interacting with the Iraqi detainees, the report said.”

This is not the first time ICE has been accused of psychologically and physically abusing detainees. Earlier this week the ACLU reported that ICE has asked for the destruction of “11 kinds of records, including those related to sexual assaults, solitary confinement and even deaths of people in its custody.”

“Many of the records that ICE proposes for destruction offer proof of the mistreatment endured by people in detention,” the ACLU says. “Given the Trump administration’s plans to increase the size and scope of the system substantially, it is all the more disturbing that the agency wants to reduce transparency and accountability.”

Emma Niles
Assistant Editor
Emma Niles, an assistant editor at Truthdig, graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a degree in political science. She has worked for the National Women’s Law Center and Ms. Magazine.…
Emma Niles

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