DETROIT (AP) – A Detroit-area man who was locked up for months and became the lead plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit challenging U.S. deportations to Iraq has won his immigration case and is on a path to citizenship, lawyers said Wednesday.
An immigration judge found that Usama “Sam” Hamama of Oakland County had rehabilitated himself since an assault conviction decades ago, a crime that was erased with a pardon by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder in one of his last acts in 2018.
The deportation case was dismissed Tuesday by Judge David Paruch, attorney William Swor said.
“Everyone had tears. This is the only country he’s ever known,” Swor said of Hamama. “He’s all but forgotten the Arabic language. He’s been here since 1974 at age 11.”
In 2017, the U.S. government suddenly began arresting hundreds of Iraqi nationals to enforce deportation orders against people with criminal records. For years, they had been allowed to stay in the U.S. because Iraq wouldn’t accept them.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit and named Hamama, a grocery store manager with four children, as the lead plaintiff. The goal of the lawsuit was to give people time to go to immigration court to make new arguments about their safety if deported to Iraq.
U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith made a series of decisions in favor of the immigrants, who were then released from custody to fight deportation orders. An appeals court eventually threw out his work, saying Goldsmith had exceeded his authority, but hundreds of people benefited in the meantime.
“A small number of people” remain in custody, ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman said. “People have been home in their communities while they fight their cases rather than being caged for however long it takes.”