An appeals court on Thursday overturned key rulings by a federal judge who had slowed down or suspended the deportation of Iraqi nationals across the country during more than a year of litigation against the Trump administration.
In a 2-1 decision, the court agreed with the U.S. Justice Department and said U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith repeatedly exceeded his authority in immigration disputes.
One of Goldsmith's legal conclusions was "broad, novel and incorrect," while a requirement that deportees get bond hearings was "created out of thin air," said Judge Alice Batchelder of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in U.S. District Court was "undoubtedly outside the norm for removal proceedings, over which immigration courts hold exclusive jurisdiction," Batchelder said.
But the practical effect of the 6th Circuit decision is unclear. The government this week followed a Nov. 20 order by Goldsmith to release about 100 Iraqi nationals who are under deportation but had been in custody for more than six months. The judge said "families have been shattered."
The lawsuit was filed in 2017 after the government suddenly began arresting hundreds of Iraqi nationals, many with criminal records, to enforce deportation orders. They had been allowed to stay in the U.S. for years because Iraq wouldn't accept them.
But the ACLU argued that their lives would be at risk if they were sent back to their native country. The goal of the lawsuit was to suspend deportations and allow people to return to immigration court to make new arguments about safety.
Because of Goldsmith's rulings, "hundreds of Iraqis have been able to present their cases before immigration judges, rather than being suddenly deported without a hearing to a county where they are in incredible danger," said ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman.
Nathalie Asher, a deportation official at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the appeals court vindicated the government's position. She said ICE was reviewing the decision.
"Lawsuits like this one ... undermine our immigration laws and enforcement efforts," Asher said.
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