At least 200 supporters cheered as Kadhim Al-bumohammed, 64, with his wife and daughter beside him, walked back from the gate of the U.S. Immigrant and Customs Office in Albuquerque with word that his required check-in had been canceled without explanation.
Al-bumohammed is one of an estimated 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide who face deportation under a recent agreement between the U.S. and Iraq, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which has filed a class-action lawsuit to halt the deportations.
At least one other Albuquerque man, now in ICE custody in El Paso, could face immediate deportation to Iraq, attorneys and family members said.
ICE has not notified Al-bumohammed that he will be deported, but recent events led him to believe that his arrest is imminent, said Rebecca Kitson, an Albuquerque attorney representing Al-bumohammed.
His next regular check-in with ICE had been scheduled in September, but ICE told him on Friday to come in for a special meeting on Monday, she said.
During an emotional news conference outside the ICE offices early Monday, Al-bumohammed pleaded to be allowed to remain in the U.S., where he has lived since 1991.
“I have my family, I have my life here,” he told supporters. “If you just give me fair justice, that is what I need.”
The estimated 1,400 Iraqis now in legal limbo all have been issued final orders of deportation, in some cases for past criminal actions. Al-bumohammed was convicted of two misdemeanor domestic violence convictions in California in 1996, Kitson said.
She said her client faces likely imprisonment in Iraq because he worked five years for the U.S. military as a language and cultural trainer during the Iraq war.
“It is very likely that he would be tortured or killed” if deported, Kitson said. “He just admitted here that he helped the U.S. military. If (Iraq) didn’t know that before, they do now.”
Al-bumohammed briefly discussed his service to the military at a U.S. base beginning in 2004.
An ICE spokeswoman in El Paso did not provide answers Monday to questions sent by email by the Journal.
A statement issued by ICE earlier this month said the agency had “arrested a number of Iraqis, all of whom had criminal convictions” for crimes including violent felonies.
Al-bumohammed’s wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen, and their U.S.-born daughter also made tearful pleas that ICE officials allow Al-bumohammed to remain in the U.S.
“Please don’t take my dad,” said Courtney Al-bumohammed, a student at Manzano High School.
“I’m only 17 and I have nothing besides him and my mom,” said the girl, who broke down in sobs during her remarks. “If he leaves, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Al-bumohammed said he has four U.S.-born children ages 17 to 21. He is living for now at the Albuquerque Friends Meeting House, a Quaker church in Downtown Albuquerque, Kitson said.
“He doesn’t want to be arrested in the middle of the night and he doesn’t want his kids to witness that,” she said.
A close friend, Abbas Alsokaini, 52, was arrested by ICE at his Albuquerque home on June 20 and remained in custody Monday in El Paso, Kitson said.
Alsokaini’s wife, Brenda Sisneros, came to the news conference at the ICE field office on Monday to call attention to her husband’s case.
“He is the backbone of our family,” Sisneros said of her husband, who has lived in the U.S. since 1997. The couple have been married for 13 years and have three children, she said. “They haven’t told us why they came and got him.”
The ACLU filed a federal lawsuit in Michigan in response to the arrests of at least 100 mostly Iraqi Chaldean Christians in the Detroit area in recent months, according to news reports.
Federal District Judge Mark Goldsmith of Michigan last week temporarily blocked the deportation of 114 Iraqi Christians who attorneys said would face death or persecution if returned to their birth country.
The ACLU of New Mexico joined the lawsuit last week to help block deportations of Iraqis living here, said Kristin Greer Love, an Albuquerque attorney with the ACLU.
Until recently, Iraq had refused to accept Iraqi deportees, who remained in the U.S. under supervision orders.
It was after Iraq agreed to accept U.S. deportees that the Trump administration dropped Iraq from its March 6 revised travel ban, according to news reports.
“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” said an ICE statement reported by CNN last month.
“Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed.”