ICE Is Abusing the ACLU’s Clients Because They are Fighting Trump’s Deportation Machine

It was an evening in late July when an ICE guard told France Anwar Elias and several other Iraqi men in immigration custody in Arizona that they were going to be released. France described the feeling as, “going from death back again to life.” The men broke out in tears and embraced one another. Many of them had been in immigration custody for months, unsure of the future and frightened for what could happen if they were deported to Iraq, where they face near-certain persecution, torture, or death.

Hours later and only after the men shed their uniforms and changed into regular clothes, the guards broke the news that they were actually just being transferred to yet another immigration detention facility. Kamran Malik said that the news felt like “a knife through the heart.” He had already called his family to tell them that he was coming home, and they were waiting to celebrate.

France distinctly remembers a guard saying, with a smirk, “Sorry for the misunderstanding.”

This was not a misunderstanding.

It was one cruel moment in a series of abuses that the ACLU’s clients have suffered since they entered ICE’s custody in May. They had been transferred by ICE in July to GEO, a privately owned 1,500 bed immigration detention center in Aurora, Colorado.

The ACLU is deeply concerned about reports of abuse and retaliation by ICE against our clients because of their participation in a nationwide class action suit which seeks to stop the immediate deportation of any Iraqi national in the United States. As members of the ACLU of Colorado’s legal team, we traveled to GEO to meet with the men and document their experiences.

GEO, the second largest immigration detention facility in the country, is a tightly regulated, colorless institution with bare cement walls, large metal doors that lock at every threshold and scores of prisoners in scrubs. Each of the detainees we interviewed provided accounts of mistreatment. These accounts were consistent, as was their palpable fear of death if ultimately deported to Iraq.

ICE appears to be targeting Iraqi nationals, because these men are fighting President Trump in court. 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. In May, ICE began making mass arrests of Iraqis with open removal orders with the intent to deport them immediately.

Among those arrested were Christians, Kurds, and Muslims. They had been living in the United States for varying lengths of time, many for decades. Many who were swept up are Chaldean Christians, members of a religious and ethnic minority that faces violent persecution in Iraq. Fears of violence have been exacerbated by the rise of ISIS, which has also targeted Sunni and Kurdish Muslims. All of these men have reason to believe that living in America will mark them as targets for persecution by ISIS or other groups should they return to Iraq.

Deporting people to a country where they are likely to face violent persecution is not only immoral; it is against American and international law. That’s why the ACLU is fighting in court to allow these individuals time to reopen their cases and prove the danger which awaits them in Iraq. In late July, a federal district judge blocked the federal government from immediately deporting anyone and extended our class action to include Iraqis with final orders of removal nationwide. But the fight is not over to ensure that everyone gets a chance to make their case before an Immigration judge.

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 Iraqis 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.” He has told his wife that he is considering just signing the form and going back to Iraq.

In Arizona and Colorado, and on the plane traveling between the two locations, ICE guards referred to the Iraqis as “camel jockey,” “rag head,” and “terrorist.” Guards at GEO referred to one of our clients as ‘Al Qaeda’ and told him, “You Iraqis are the worst people in here. We can’t stand you Iraqis.” When he tried to say that he has rights, he was told that he doesn’t have any rights because he was “an alien.”

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. Some Iraqis apparently succumbed to the pressure. The brave men we spoke to have decided to stay and fight.

The ICE guards have no idea whether the detainees have a valid basis to fight their removal. Some detainees said the guards mocked the lawsuit, saying that it would fail. This psychological manipulation is clearly being done to cause distress in those choosing to participate in the legal action.

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.

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Anonymous

American laws allow petitioners to apply for asylum. The Iraqis are actually following the law. The guards are not.

Anonymous

Help! Help! My Rights are being oppressed! They won't let me torture people I don't think are my equals!

Anonymous

To the "Anonymous" that keeps repeatedly posting that these Iraqis are 'nationals' and 'here legally' - there is NOTHING in this article to support your misinterpretations. BTW, wasn't part of 'liberation' to end their persecution?? They are NOT here legally. And - IMO - something is inherently wrong with allegation that food, water, etc. are being withheld --- I'm going to assert we are NOT getting the entire story. ACLU - overstepping - "American Civil Liberties Union" has transformed itself into taking cases AGAINST 'America.'

WTF

I thought these foreign invaders aren't American citizens. So why are you fighting for them ?? They BROKE OUR LAWS. How about if I decide to rob a bank because I don't like the law. Will you liberal idiots fight for me ?? My feelings are hurt. I DEMAND THAT YOU STOP THIS INSANITY NOW.!!!!

Anonymous

They're nationals. They're here legally. They aren't breaking any laws. Nationals typically have most of the same rights as citizens. Alot of the Iraqi Nationals were told that in exchange for help and information for American troops, they'd be allowed to immigrate here. Now the government is breaking its word.

Anonymous

These men are nationals. They're here legally.

Anonymous

Thanks for making it clear that (a) you didn't read the article and (b) you have no idea what you are talking about.

Steven Tomas

I served this country in the USMC. I swore an oathe to protect the Constitution of the United States. I'll be the first one on the front line if we are invaded by a foreign nation. Yes there are some bad actors crossing over our boarders, but a vast amount of them are good people may it be legal or illegally, they come here for a better life, thats the cost of having a free country. The more we oppress the more we loose our freedoms. They are unable to fight for their freedom in their own land because they don't have the means or support, so they come here to this great land, (case in point North Korea). For those who do come illegally, they should get detained and process them HUMANELY, and determine if they are ok to stay here due to political asylum, oppression, violations of human rights, and for humanitarian reasons, and send back those who just come over for work purpose only. We should not and will not abuse those who enter this country legally or illegally because as a nation we are better than that. But to those who call themselves Americans who advocate violence to those immigrants are a bigger threat to this country and what this country stands for. If you who support trump and his ideology wants to live in a country where the people are oppressed, killed, even tortured, then go to North Korea and try living there for a year. And while there talk shit about the government publicly and see what happens to you. Now as an American and one who served with the USMC I along with thousands of Marines (not all Marine's support this ideology [only the good ones]) will stand up against the oppressors to protect our good name, our country and the Constitution of the United States. A true Marine will do this if they believe in this ideology or not, because it is the right thing to do. We did it during WW II, Korea, Vietnam and we'll do it here on our own soil. So before you start bashing people over the head just because they wanted a better life, remember that you would not be here if your ancestors did not come over for a better life (with exceptions to Native Americans). So instead try to understand their plight as to why they come here and try helping them fight their oppressors so they too can live free in their own country, so they would not want or need to migrate to this country. We are a great nation so let's show the rest of the world how great of a nation we are. By helping them. Here are two quotes to think about.
1) give a person a fish and they'll eat for the day. Show a person how to fish they'll eat for a lifetime. (Show them how to fight oppression)
2) those who are willing to give up their freedom for security deserves neither. (Benjamin Franklin)
(Lets not allow trump administration or any future administration take away our freedom and our rights just because some shortsighted fascist, trump loving ignoramus says to [and if you don't like it, then you could leave this country and move to North Korea])

Erika

Steven, thank you for your service! Thank you for the forthright, intelligent and compassionate post. My brother proudly served as a Marine for 21 years, like you he saw the atrocities the Iraqi people have to endure, as well as other people throughout the world. It is evident from most of these responses people have poor reading comprehension or do not care that these men mentioned in the article were nationals and did seek asylum. Unfortunately, a significant number of Americans are not globally aware and are filled with hate. Most of whom do not even appreciate the 1% of Americans who proudly serve in the Armed Services to protect all the freedoms we enjoy. I agree with your statement that if they were here illegally, they should still be treated HUMANELY. #trumpsamerica #ICEstappo. All of this is sickening and heartbreaking!

Rochelle D

As a USN veteran, I wholeheartedly agree with you.

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