A lawyer for a former autoworker accused of being a Nazi death camp guard on Thursday challenged the right of the nation's chief immigration judge to order his deportation.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments on the accused guard John Demjanjuk's challenge to a final removal, or deportation, order issued in 2005. The federal government has been trying to deport him for three decades.

Demjanjuk's lawyer questioned the judge's authority to order to the removal of Demjanjuk, 87. "The chief immigration judge is purely an administrative official," Demjanjuk's attorney, John Broadley, told the panel.

Arguing for the government, Robert Thomson of the Justice Department, told the court that contention was absurd, that the job title itself means he's a judge.

Demjanjuk has steadfastly maintained that he was a Nazi prisoner himself, forced to work as a guard, and that he hurt no one.

The three-judge panel didn't say when it would rule, but it's usually several months after arguments before the court issues a decision.

The Justice Department first brought charges seeking to revoke Demjanjuk's citizenship — for allegedly falsifying information on his applications when entering the U.S. in 1952 and to become a citizen in 1958 — and to deport him in 1977.

Demjanjuk's U.S. citizenship was revoked in 1981, restored in 1998 and revoked again in 2002. The government initially claimed he was the notoriously sadistic guard at the Treblinka camp known as "Ivan the Terrible."

He was extradited to Israel in 1986 and was under a death sentence, until Israel's Supreme Court ruled in 1993 that he was not the same man as the guard known as Ivan.

Demjanjuk returned home and his U.S. citizenship was restored. The current deportation case is based on evidence uncovered by the Justice Department alleging he was a different guard. That evidence led courts to again strip Demjanjuk of his citizenship — on the basis of the original falsified information charge.

In the current case, Broadley, and the government argue over whether a former chief immigration judge, Michael Creppy, had authority to rule in December 2005 that Demjanjuk could be deported back to his native Ukraine — or Germany or Poland.

Broadley contends that Creppy was an administrator who should have appointed an immigration judge to hear the case, rather than handle it himself. He wants the deportation order tossed out and a new hearing held.

The Board of Immigration Appeals has refused to set aside Creppy's ruling, and Broadley wants the 6th Circuit to review that denial.