Reflections on Removing Refugee Criminals

By Dan Cadman on January 16, 2019

Law360 has published an article titled "Miller Canfield Cuts New Path To Help Iraqis Fight Deportation".

It speaks in glowing, almost hyperbolic, terms about a high-powered law firm getting involved, on a pro bono basis, in the fight to preserve a group of Iraqis from removal. Here are the things you should know about the group, that you will only get a hazy sense of from reading the article:

  • They all have criminal histories with convictions serious enough to warrant their removal from the United States under immigration law;
  • They have all already been through hearings in front of immigration judges and ordered removed;
  • Many, quite probably most, are nominally Christians granted refugee status at least in part because of the hostility of Muslim Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq; and
  • Iraq, despite the billions of American taxpayers' money and thousands of American service members killed, wounded, crippled, or maimed aiding that government in its fight against extremists, has consistently refused to allow repatriation of these criminals.

Because Iraq has steadfastly refused to permit its nationals to routinely be deported, under rules mandated by the Supreme Court in the Zadvydas case, all were likely held a maximum of 90 days and then released, once it became evident that deportation was not "imminent" (which is the trigger for detention, or re-assumption of custody).

What has happened to change things? Unlike past Republican or Democratic administrations, the Trump White House has ordered the State Department to start exerting sanctions authorized by the Immigration and Nationality Act, to refuse visas to nationals of scofflaw countries that won't accept their own nationals back. The change is starting to tell for many such nations. Iraq — no doubt noting the fact that other nations' leaders and families are being denied visas (and quite possibly quietly being warned that such a future was in store for them) — has cracked open the door to permit limited numbers of deportees be returned. It stands to reason that the U.S. government would want to return first those aliens convicted of criminal offenses.

Of course, the journalist who wrote the Law360 article found what is quite likely the least repugnant of the individuals caught up in this sea change to depict in his story about the group:

Federal immigration agents arrived without warning on a Sunday to take Sam Hamama away.

The Detroit resident had fled Iraq as a child and came to the United States as a Chaldean Christian refugee in 1974. Over 28 years ago, he was convicted of assault and gun possession and served two years in prison for it. The crime made him eligible for deportation, though the government did not act on it then.

A lifetime later, Hamama — who now has four children, including two in college — was stunned when agents arrested him at his home in June 2017, according to court documents.

I can't help but wonder what that lifetime later looks like for the victim(s) of the assault. Was that person grievously hurt physically, mentally, or emotionally? We don't know. Perhaps because of my law enforcement background, I'm also always exceptionally concerned when I read about a person engaged in violent crimes who is also in possession of a weapon at the same time. I don't find these things so easily elided over in the way the writer does.

The article goes on to document the laborious path of discovery that the heroic law firm undertook in fighting the removals. They finally arrived at what they considered a "smoking gun" when they discovered that the selfsame officials who were authorizing re-assumption of custody for aliens whose removal is imminent (as required under Zadvydas) were simultaneously arguing that Iraq should be placed on the list of recalcitrant nations to suffer visa sanctions.

The law firm, and the article, insinuate that the officials have been misrepresenting themselves to the court and are using the juxtaposition of the two events to argue that their clients should be released.

I've been scratching my head over that since I read the article. I myself don't see any conflict at all in both those actions being undertaken simultaneously. The fact that Iraq has cracked open the door in an attempt to avert visa sanctions on its politicians and their wives and children doesn't obviate the fact that — like our nemesis, Cuba — they are parceling out permits to repatriate individuals on a slow-motion basis, rather than simply saying, "When the order of removal becomes final, let us know and we'll issue the appropriate travel documents to take them back".

On the contrary, it seems to me what is incomprehensible is that our government allowed this situation to fester so long, no doubt out of mistaken notions of foreign and defense policy in a country just one step short of a failed state. But precisely because of our decades-long involvement and the sacrifices our nation has made in their behalf, such a policy by Iraq should never have been countenanced in the first place. Given that context, it seems to me that seizing the moment to remove alien criminals from our midst while at the same time keeping the pressure up by putting Iraq on the "recalcitrant nations" list susceptible to visa sanctions for its elite is exactly the right thing to do.

I don't say this lightly. I understand well the dimensions of repatriation of even nominal Christians to a predominantly conservative Muslim country. But no one made any of these individuals pursue a life of crime in the United States. It was, in fact, a poor way to thank us for taking them in as refugees.

It's also worth noting that at their removal hearings, each of these individuals had the opportunity to ask for withholding of removal or protection from repatriation based on the Convention Against Torture. That they did not prevail suggests that they were unable to persuade the presiding judges that these additional protections were warranted.