A group of Nashville Kurds could be released from federal custody after spending nearly seven months in detention, after a judge in Michigan determined the government has not shown they're dangerous to the public or flight risks.
In an order released Jan. 2, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled that the detention of scores of Iraqi nationals by Immigration and Customs Enforcement last summer violated their constitutional rights. He says they should have been given an opportunity to post bail while their deportation cases are being sorted out.
"Our legal tradition rejects warehousing human beings while their legal rights are being determined, without an opportunity to persuade a judge that the norm of monitored freedom should be followed," Goldsmith wrote. "This principle is familiar to all in the context of the criminal law, where even a heinous criminal — whether a citizen or not — enjoys the right to seek pre-trial release."
The immigration sweep in June netted 10 Iraqi nationals living in Middle Tennessee. They were among the more than 80 people taken nationwide, many of them Kurdish and Chaldean Christians who came to the United States as refugees.
According to the government, all of them had committed crimes some time since coming to the U.S. that made them subject to deportation. But orders to expatriate them had been delayed by previous administrations because the Iraqi government wouldn't take them or couldn't guarantee their security if they returned. Kurds and Christians have frequently clashed with Arab Sunnis and Shi'a Iraqis.
But the Trump administration got permission to send them back as part of a deal to take Iraq out of his travel ban. ICE officials abruptly seized them in June.
Advocates have tried to block their return to Iraq, and they convinced the court to prevent ICE from sending them back until their cases could be reviewed individually.
One of the 10 detainees from Middle Tennessee has since been released, after authorities determined he should not have been taken into custody. But the rest have been in limbo, including Qassim Al-Saedy, who spent most of the past several months in an ICE detention center in Louisiana.
The justification for Al-Saedy's detention appears to be a 2002 domestic violence conviction that put him behind bars for several month. Cheryl Lane, his longtime partner, says it stemmed from a fight between the two of them, a crime she's long since forgiven.
"If he'd have been an American man, he wouldn't have spent a night in jail over that. So he don't deserve to lose his life over it. He's already lost his greencard for it, you know? That's enough."
Lane says Al-Saedy hasn't committed any offenses since then and has reported regularly to immigration authorities, as required. One reason he's avoided trouble, she says, is the couple's 17-year-old son, a high school senior.
"He wants to be a good provider for his family, and his son especially," she says. "He's a good father. He has taught my son to be a good man. That's the reason me and him have lived together all these years."
The judge says hasn't seen any evidence, either, that Al-Saedy or most of the other Iraqi nationals taken this summer are dangerous criminals. In fact, Goldsmith writes, the government hasn't placed the criminal histories of any of the detainees into the court's record.
That means they should be allowed to post bond and return to their communities while their cases are decided, Goldsmith says.
Both sides are supposed to return to court to discuss next steps. Lane says she's now hopeful Al-Saedy will be back home in Antioch soon. She says Al-Saedy is diabetic and has lost weight and claims he and a friend were once mobbed by a group of other detainees.
But she fears a legal setback could keep him stuck in Louisiana and still facing the risk of being sent back to a country he left decades ago.