A daughter of an Iraqi immigrant detained recalls when ICE agents showed up at her home in Sterling Heights on June 11 to arrest him.
Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press
On the surface, the federal court hearing on Thursday was about whether a person in a federal immigration-detention facility has a constitutional right to starve himself to death.
But the backstory was about immigration policy in the Donald Trump era.
Louis Akrawi was a prominent fixture of the Chaldean community in Detroit. He was also an ex-convict and has been subject to a deportation order since 2009. But Iraq, which he fled in 1968, would not accept repatriated persons from the United States.
That changed in March with President Trump’s revised travel ban prohibiting entry of individuals from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Iraq was removed from the banned list. In turn, it lifted its own restrictions on accepting deportees.
Akrawi was arrested May 22, and since then he has been moved — sometimes on a daily basis — to Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facilities, first in Michigan and Ohio, then Louisiana and Arizona.
Weeks later, in June, ICE officers made a major sweep, arresting more than 100 Iraqis in Detroit, most of them also Chaldeans, scattering them to immigrant-detention centers around the country to await deportation.
Akrawi, 69, landed at Arizona’s center in Florence. His attorneys estimate that there are 10 to 40 other Chaldeans in a “pod” there. When Akrawi was separated from the others for supposed security threats, he went on a hunger strike.
On July 7, when Akrawi seemed to be failing rapidly, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix filed a petition for a temporary restraining order that would allow the detention facility to force-feed him.
On Thursday, attorneys for Akrawi faced off against federal prosecutors in U.S. District Court in Phoenix to challenge therestraining order. By then, Akrawi had been taking liquids and was recovering from dehydration. At 280 pounds on a 5-foot-10-inch frame, he was obese. And though he had already lost 21 pounds, a doctor testified that he could go another 40 days or more on his body fat, as long as he remained hydrated.
It was a moot point. Akrawi announced over a telephone hookup that he was ending his hunger strike — for now — but could possibly begin another if he is not reunited with his “people,” who he claims he needs to “train” for survival in Iraq because most of them speak neither Chaldean nor Arabic and have no idea how to comport themselves in Iraqi culture.
Refugee arrivals in the U.S. have dropped by almost half since President Trump took office — but it’s not that simple.
Video provided by Newsy
ACLU: Targeted in Iraq
The bigger story is compelling.
The ICE sweeps in Detroit and elsewhere were aimed at deporting Iraqi immigrants who are convicted criminals. They had nothing to do with “Muslim extremism” or terrorism.
Chaldeans, like Akrawi, are Christians. They speak Aramaic, which was the language spoken by Jesus and John the Baptist.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a class-action suit on their behalf in U.S. District Court in Michigan, claiming that the Chaldeans were likely to be targeted by ISIS and other secular groups. A judge there imposed a temporary restraining order stopping their deportations, though attorneys for ICE argued that a District Court judge had no jurisdiction over immigration cases.
Akrawi claims he came to the U.S. in 1968 after participating in an aborted coup d’etat against the ruling party of Saddam Hussein. He settled in Detroit where he owned a restaurant, and according to law enforcement there, became a drug kingpin.
Investigators say that in the late 1980s and 1990s, Akrawi ran a Chaldean gang that took over vast swaths of the metropolitan Detroit drug trade.
The gang was known for violence, including bombings, shootings and contract killings, some of them directed at police officers. Akrawi had survived attempts on his life that left scars on his back, leg, stomach and chest.
In 1993, gunmen sprayed automatic-weapon fire on a Detroit market, an attack that police said Akrawi ordered in retaliation against a rival in the drug business, who had tried to kill Akrawi the day before.
The rival wasn’t killed in the attack, but a market customer was killed as he waited in line at a cash register to buy milk.
Akrawi was charged with first-degree murder for ordering the hit. A jury later convicted him of second-degree murder and a judge sentenced him to 15 to 25 years in prison. He served 20 years before being released on parole in February 2016.
He was living with his sister in a Detroit suburb when he was arrested after reporting to an ICE office. He had an open deportation order dating to 2009.
The Supreme Court is allowing the Trump administration to go forward with a limited version of its ban on travel from six mostly Muslim countries.
1 of 11
Here’s a look at some of the comments made by Trump and his advisers that have been cited by judges that have blocked his travel ban.
2 of 11
Faculty, students and staff at Arizona State University were part of a national event called Academics United-No to Visa and Immigration Ban on campus on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
3 of 11
The Islamic Community Center in Tempe hosts an interfaith event and silent march on Feb. 3, 2017, in response to President Donald Trump’s travel ban. Ben Moffat/azcentral.com
4 of 11
Faith leaders and former refugees comment on President Donald Trump’s executive order on refugees. Thomas Hawthorne/azcentral.com
5 of 11
Northern Arizona University President Rita Cheng talks about the effect on Arizona universities of President Donald Trump’s recent executive order restricting travel by citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries. Hannah Gaber/azcentral.com
6 of 11
The Arab-American Association hosted a gathering in Phoenix to discuss President Donald Trump’s immigration order. Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
7 of 11
Hundreds showed up to Terminal 4 of Sky Harbor International Airport on Sunday to voice support for refugees and immigrants and to protest President Donald Trump’s order cracking down on immigration. Video by Patrick Breen/azcentral.com
8 of 11
Demonstrators at Sky Harbor join protests across the U.S. in response to President Donald Trump’s executive order, signed Friday, placing a temporary ban on entrance to the U.S. by people from seven majority-Muslim countries. Ben Moffat/azcentral.com
9 of 11
Ibado Mahmud, a Somali refugee who resettled in Arizona in 1993, talks about President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily freeze the arrival of all refugees and indefinitely halt the arrival of refugees from Syria. Tom Tingle/azcentral.com
10 of 11
President Trump is wasting no time wielding his presidential pen. Here’s what you should know about executive orders.
USA TODAY NETWORK
11 of 11
Analysis: Supreme Court travel ban decision
Timeline: Trump’s response to travel ban scrutiny
ASU visa ban protest at Tempe campus
‘We’re all neighbors’
Faith leaders and former refugees on the refugee ban
NAU president talks about travel ban
Leaders of the Phoenix area’s Arab-American community discuss the immigration ban
Sunday’s immigration ban protest at Sky Harbor
Scenes from Sunday’s immigration ban protest at Sky Harbor
Somali refugee on Trump executive orders: ‘I have no hope’
How executive orders work
‘How to survive in Iraq’
In his declaration in the current court matter, Akrawi claims that his siblings, five children and five grandchildren are all U.S. citizens, and that he had been in compliance with his local ICE office.
During a brief stay in a detention facility in Youngstown, Ohio, according to the declaration, Akrawi took it upon himself “to teach the younger Chaldeans about how to survive in Iraq.”
During the Thursday hearing, Akrawi told Judge David Campbell that many of the Chaldean detainees speak neither Chaldean nor Arabic and are ignorant of Iraqi customs.
“If they talk like that over there, they would be shot in the first week,” he said.
Authorities repeatedly told him he would be placed with his fellow Chaldeans “tomorrow,” then the day after and the day after that. He began his hunger strike on June 30.
In pleadings, Assistant U.S. Attorney Katherine Branch wrote that Akrawi was trying to manipulate the system with his hunger strike.
“You have no constitutional right to starve yourself,” she said in open court.
Christopher Thomas, an attorney with the Phoenix office of the law firm Perkins Coie, argued on behalf of the ACLU that Akrawi was at no immediate risk of death and that there was no need to restrain or force-feed him.
More than an hour into Thursday’s hearing, the crisis ended with Akrawi’s pronouncement:
“I have given my word,” he said. “After this (hearing), I will eat. If I am not returned to my people, I can go on a hunger strike again.”
Campbell then ruled that he would convert the restraining order into a more-permanent preliminary injunction, leaving in place the government’s ability to administer fluids and monitor Akrawi’s health, but denying the ability to restrain or force-feed him.
After the hearing, in conversation with Akrawi’s attorneys, Branch blurted out that the government’s security concerns were not that Akrawi would cause a threat, but that the other Chaldeans had threatened Akrawi .
She paraphrased the argument as, “We don’t want him here. If you move him in, we’re going to kick his ass.”
An associate then whispered something in Branch’s ear, and she stopped talking. Akrawi’s attorneys were caught unaware by the statement.
Detroit Free Press reporter John Wisely contributed to this article.
Judge: Federal district court has jurisdiction in Iraqi immigrants case
Judge issues stay halting deportation of 1,444 Iraqis nationwide
The number of Muslim refugees entering U.S. declined after Trump took office
Phoenix police consider changes to immigration-enforcement policy
An Iraqi man who helped train U.S. troops is seeking refuge now in an Albuquerque church. He faces an immigration order to appear for a hearing where he could be detained and possibly deported back to Iraq. (July 13)
Read or Share this story: http://azc.cc/2uZ5Mqv