Federal authorities confirm that they're rounding up Iraqis in Nashville and elsewhere for possible deportation, in a sweep that began last week and so far has resulted in six people being detained.
Immigration authorities say the sweep is aimed at removing those with criminal convictions, as part of a deal with the Iraqi government.
"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," a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement wrote in a prepared statement. "Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed.”
But immigration rights groups say federal authorities are using heavy-handed tactics to bring in the men, including visiting their workplaces and seizing them in their homes. It especially troubles them that the arrests are being made during the religious month of Ramadan.
Andrew Free, an attorney who represents some of the men who've been detained, says they've been cooperating with immigration authorities for years, so there was no reason to begin rounding them up all of a sudden last week.
"If they hadn't checked in and they hadn't followed their order of supervision, then they already would've been snatched up," he says. "One question that is open in my mind is it would have been possible to just call them and say, 'Please come in.'"
The ICE spokesman confirms its agents are trying to remove Iraqi nationals whose deportations had been blocked in years past. A similar operation is under way in the Detroit area, which like Nashville has many refugees from Iraq.
ICE says all of the possible deportees have convictions. The agency lists crimes such as homicide, rape, assault and drug trafficking. Arrest records show that many of those charges date back a decade or more.
The sweep is related to President Trump's travel ban. Iraq was left out of the second version of the ban. In exchange, the government in Baghdad agreed to take back Iraqi nationals slated for deportation from the U.S.
Iraq suspended transfers in 2010, citing its security situation.