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Judge blocks deportation of 1,400 Iraqis; latest court to thwart Trump immigration plans

A federal judge late Monday issued an order blocking deportation of some 1,400 Iraqis — many with serious criminal records including murder — ruling that the government sprung a sneak-attack on them, and they must be given a chance to reargue their deportation cases.

Judge Mark A. Goldsmith, an Obama appointee to the federal bench, sided with the mainly Chaldean Christian migrants, who said they feared persecution at the hands of a Muslim government and Islamic State insurgents should they be forced to go back home.

Judge Goldsmith agreed, saying the consequences could be “lethal,” and saying even if the U.S. deports them to Baghdad, which is under government control, “the ever-shifting fortunes of war” could mean they end up in Islamic State territory later.

“Each Petitioner faces the risk of torture or death on the basis of residence in America and publicized criminal records; many will also face persecution as a result of a particular religious affiliation,” the judge wrote.

Judge Goldsmith becomes the latest Democratic-appointed judge to block the Trump administration’s immigration actions, following a series of judges who have curtailed his sanctuary city crackdown, tried to stop his temporary travel ban and refugee pause and prevented him from stripping DACA deportation amnesty status from one illegal immigrant.

The new ruling carves out new ground, though.

Under federal law, immigration cases are supposed to be heard in immigration courts, and can be appealed to circuit courts. District court judges aren’t supposed to question those decisions.

But Judge Goldsmith said in cases where severe rights violations are possible, judges have to step in — and he said the law preventing them from doing so is unconstitutional.

“This ruling continues to block the government from recklessly sending these individuals into harm’s way,” said Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. “The court’s action could literally save lives.”

In nearly every case, the Iraqis in question have a criminal record. Charges range all the way up to murder and rape. The migrants have served their sentences, and were ordered deported — in some cases decades ago — but have remained in the U.S. because until earlier this year, Iraq hindered deportations.

After the Trump administration struck an agreement in March, deportations resumed, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents began to seek out migrants who’d been released because they couldn’t be deported.

The migrants argue that because Iraq wasn’t accepting deportees, they never really feared being sent back so they never challenged their orders of removal. Now that deportation is a real danger, they said they should get another chance in court.

The judge Monday sided with them, saying a delay in their removals was a small price to pay for protecting their constitutional rights.

He also chided the government for making it tough for some of the migrants to reopen their cases, saying limits on visiting and phone calls, and moving detainees around, prevents them from working on their cases with lawyers.