DETROIT – Hope has turned into desperation for families of Iraqi immigrants detained by ICE. Now, they're demanding answers ahead of a critical court hearing.
Family members have gone months without communicating with their loved ones facing deportation, and that silence has many residents restless.
Officials with the American Civil Liberties Union said the Iraqi government will only take back citizens who volunteer to be deported and that detainees are being threatened by ICE agents if they don't sign.
ACLU members told a federal judge that signing the documents is "the equivalent of signing their own death warrant."
Protestors stood outside federal court Monday claiming Iraqi nationals were threatened by ICE agents into signing the voluntary deportations documents.
"Basically saying if you don't agree to self deport, you'll spend your lives in prison separated from your family," said Nadine Yousif Kalasho, of Code Legal Aid. "They're being coerced into signing documents that will eventually lead to their deportations."
ACLU members and Code Legal Aid said Chaldean and Muslim Iraqis could be killed if they are deported to Iraq.
"A lot of them have cracked," Kalasho said. "They're helpless and starting to believe these people who are not telling the truth."
In court, an attorney for the Department of Justice disputed the claims, saying coercion might have happened during consulate interviews with Iraqi officials where ICE agents were not present.
"We're just here to plead and say, 'Let them be free,'" Rita Daniel said.
Daniel's brother, Steve Shakkuri, said the family is praying he will be released. The 39-year-old Chaldean man, from Sterling Heights, was detained in January during a routine check-in with ICE agents.
Shakkuri was brought to the United States legally as a child and convicted of felony retail fraud as a teenager. His family said he spent the next 20 years turning his life around, and recently got married and had a baby boy.
"It's been rough to have someone just taken away, separated from family," Daniel said. "He missed Father's Day with his son. It's really hard."
After hearing arguments, Judge Mark Goldsmith ordered both sides to negotiate privately so that lawyers have time to meet with detainees before they talk to Iraqi officials. The next round is scheduled for the end of June.