ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Hundreds of Iraqi Christians being held in detention facilities across the U.S. could soon be reunited with their families. A federal judge in Detroit ruled late yesterday that the government must hold hearings and release detainees who don't pose a risk. Michigan Public Radio's Rick Pluta has the story.
RICK PLUTA, BYLINE: More than 270 Iraqis are being held while they fight deportation orders. They were rounded up by the Department of Homeland Security over the summer, and many have been in lockups for six months or more. Their immigration cases could drag on for years. Federal Judge Mark Goldsmith ruled it's unconstitutional to just hold them for that long. He wrote, quote, "our legal tradition rejects warehousing human beings while their legal rights are being determined." Margo Schlanger is one of the ACLU attorneys working to release the detainees.
MARGO SCHLANGER: We have a Constitution that says liberty is the default and the government has to have a really good reason to put you in detention, and they don't have that here.
PLUTA: Schlanger says the detainees have been legally in the U.S. for many years, regularly reported to immigration authorities until they were arrested and claims they don't pose a danger to the public.
SCHLANGER: So what the judge said was they're entitled to a hearing where they can explain that they are not a public safety risk or a flight risk, and they can fight their immigration cases outside of detention.
PLUTA: Most of the detainees face deportation orders for crimes committed many years ago. They range from assault to marijuana possession. All have already served out their sentences. Some were sent to jail. Others got probation. They might have been deported sooner, but Iraq would not accept them. Martin Manna is with the Chaldean Community Foundation. He says most of the detainees are Christians, and if they were sent back to Iraq, they would likely face persecution, torture and murder. He says they were allowed to remain free in the U.S. for all those years because they got jobs, took care of their families and had no further run-ins with the law. He says there's no reason that would change if and when they are released from detention.
MARTIN MANNA: This is very positive news, and I'm hopeful here within the next 30 days that most of those detained will be able to be released.
PLUTA: This ruling could also be applied to other cases, possibly mandating hearings for immigrants facing deportation to countries like Somalia and Indonesia. The judge has asked all the lawyers involved to appear in his courtroom next Tuesday to determine the next steps. There's no word yet on whether the government plans to appeal his ruling. For NPR News, I'm Rick Pluta in Lansing, Mich. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.