A federal judge in Detroit issued a sweeping order Monday protecting more than 1,400 Iraqis from deportation while he determines whether his court has jurisdiction over the issue.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith took a decision from last week, which affected 114 mostly Iraqi Christians rounded up in the Detroit area, and stretched it across the U.S. for the next 14 days.
"The substantiated allegations made here are that detainees face extraordinarily grave consequences: death, persecution, and torture. ... Such harm far outweighs any interest the government may have in proceeding with the removals immediately," Goldsmith said.
The U.S. government said 1,444 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 suddenly is heating up because Iraq has agreed to accept them.
The Justice Department insists a U.S. District Court judge doesn't have jurisdiction in the immigration matter. Goldsmith is not certain, so the 14-day freeze will give him more time to decide.
"It's an unusual case for all kinds of reasons," he said hours earlier while hearing arguments.
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.
"They need enough time to file those petitions to reopen. It's the government that is hurrying these people toward deportation," Margo Schlanger, attorney for the Iraqi immigrants, told the judge.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.