Federal judge halts Iraqis' deportation until court review

A federal judge Tuesday halted the deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals, including many Christians fearing persecution, while courts review the orders to remove them from the U.S.

Judge Mark Goldsmith issued a 24-page opinion asserting jurisdiction in the case over the objection of the Justice Department, which argued U.S. district judges do not have jurisdiction.

"This Court concludes that to enforce the Congressional mandate that district courts lack jurisdiction -- despite the compelling context of this case -- would expose Petitioners to the substantiated risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court," Goldsmith wrote in a 24-page opinion.

Goldsmith earlier blocked the deportations while he considered whether he had jurisdiction over the case.

Many of the Iraqis, including 114 rounded up in the Detroit area last month who are mostly Christians, fear attacks over their religion if returned to Iraq. The government says they face deportation because they committed crimes in the U.S.

Hydar Butris is one of those facing deportation. He's being detained in Ohio following the large sweep of arrests in June. His family attended a hearing Wednesday morning on his behalf, trying to stop his deportation. Butris's attorney was trying to convince a judge to withdraw Butris's no contest plea following his arrest in the late '90s for selling marijuana.

Butris received probation and served his time, but now, 20 years later, he's facing the possible deportation because of it.

"It's heartbreaking. I never imagined anything like this happened before I was born," says his 12-year-old daughter, Lillyana Butris.

Over the years, Butris has created a life in Michigan. He's married, has three kids and has founded several businesses. His family fears his death if he's sent to Iraq.

Goldsmith earlier extended a ruling suspending the deportation of Butris and dozens of others while he considered jurisdiction to all Iraqi nationals in the U.S.

The U.S. government said 1,400 Iraqis are under deportation orders nationwide, though most are not in custody. Some have been under orders for years because they committed crimes in the U.S. But legal action over deportations took on new urgency because Iraq has agreed to accept them.

The American Civil Liberties Union said a suspension is necessary so Iraqi nationals can go to immigration court and argue that their lives would be in jeopardy if returned to their native country. Without some intervention, the ACLU contends that people could be deported before their case is called.  

Goldsmith scheduled a Wednesday hearing to discuss several matters in the case, including a request from the Iraqis for a preliminary injunction barring the deportations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report