Judge halts deporting refugee to Iraq, citing torture fears
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A U.S. immigration judge in California has halted the deportation of an Iraqi refugee for fear he could be tortured if he were returned to Iraq to face allegations he killed a police officer on behalf of the Islamic State group.
Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Tara Naselow-Nahas in November ruled Omar Abdulsattar Ameen was eligible to be deported because he lied on his immigration papers, even though a federal judge earlier rejected allegations that he had killed the officer.
But in an order dated last Wednesday, Naselow-Nahas halted Ameen’s removal to Iraq, where his lawyers argue he would be given a sham trial and executed.
Ameen’s lawyers praised that part of her decision but said they are disappointed she did not grant him asylum or change his immigration status. They noted her finding means she rejected government claims Ameen was involved in terrorism or criminal activity that would have prevented her decision.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesman David Yost declined comment, citing the ongoing litigation.
Either side can appeal Naselow-Nahas’ ruling to the Board of Immigration Appeals within 30 days.
Ameen fled Iraq to Turkey in 2012. He was granted status as a refugee in the United States in June 2014 on the grounds he was a victim of terrorism. He resettled as a refugee in the Sacramento, California, area with his wife and four children, until federal authorities in 2018 began trying to return him to Iraq.
Naselow-Nahas last fall rejected allegations Ameen provided support, engaged in terrorist activity, participated in harming another person, or falsely denied he was a member of the Islamic State of Iraq.
That tracked with a ruling in April by U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan in Sacramento. He found that cellphone evidence shows Ameen was in Turkey in 2014 at the same time he was alleged to be killing a police officer in the Iraqi town of Rawah after it fell to the Islamic State group.
But Naselow-Nahas found that Ameen lied when he said he had never interacted with various terrorist groups. She found he interacted with a cousin who was a member of a terrorist group, and that Ameen lied when he said his brother had been kidnapped and his father fatally shot.
Ameen filed a federal lawsuit in January arguing that he should be freed and allowed to stay in the U.S. on the grounds that his due process rights have been violated by an immigration system that his attorneys and supporters contend is stacked against him.
A hearing on that lawsuit is set for April 13 in federal court in San Francisco.