Posted by Ryan J. Suto on May 10, 2019 in Blog

While Iraq was quickly removed from the Muslim Ban in 2017, the Trump administration has found a new way to place a de facto travel ban on the country. In an effort to force the country to accept deported Iraqis, some of whom have lived in the U.S. for decades, the administration has quietly enacted a new immigration rule that could have major ramifications for Iraqis who wish to visit family, study, or do business in the U.S.

Over the past thirty years, various waves of Iraqis have left home in large numbers in the wake of the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the Gulf War of the 1990s, the oppression of former dictator Saddam Hussein, the aftermath of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in the 2000s, or since ISIS began to target Muslims and religious minorities beginning around 2013. Some of these Iraqis have come to the U.S.  after assisting our military in their home country, some hoping to join family here, and others were simply searching for a new and stable life.

However, as some came to the United States without proper documentation or with falsified immigration documents, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has been steadily deporting Iraqis since at least 2015. At times, Iraq would not accept those who have been ordered removed from the U.S., especially those who have no Iraqi documentation or who have committed crimes in the U.S., leaving them in a legal limbo. Nonetheless, many non-U.S. citizen Iraqis have lived productive lives during their decades in the U.S., with many having no families or homes in Iraq, U.S.-citizen spouses and children, or limited memory of their birth country or even the Arabic language.

But as part of President Trump’s greater exclusionary immigration policy, he has shown these Iraqis no mercy. In one of his first actions as president, Trump signed Executive Order 13768 which states, among other things, that the Secretary of State must “ensure that diplomatic efforts and negotiations with foreign states include as a condition precedent the acceptance by those foreign states of their nationals who are subject to removal from the United States.” Under this EO, Iraq was considered a “recalcitrant country.”

On January 27, 2017, in Trump’s subsequent Executive Order, Iraq was listed along with six other countries in President Trump’s original Muslim Ban, closing the door for any Iraqis to enter the U.S. legally. However, the country was removed from Muslim Ban 2.0, issued on March 6 of that year, after discussions between President Trump and the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Administration statements regarding Iraq’s removing from the list of banned countries focused on the Iraqi government’s cooperation in fighting ISIS within the country and in Syria.  

That is when the deportation of Iraqis increased.

The Iraqi government in fact agreed to accept Iraqi nationals deported from the U.S. as part of the negotiations to remove Iraq from the Muslim Ban, at which time there were at least 1,400 Iraqis in the U.S. with removal orders. But the Iraqi government did not view the agreement as permanent; in June 2017 Iraq denied a group that ICE was prepared to deport, requiring that each individual must be repatriated willingly. ICE was undeterred. Since that development, the Trump Administration has deported hundreds of Iraqis from the U.S., with no regard to the details of their individual cases, by employing scare tactics and alleged lies to induce compliance with immigration officials and sign-off on deportation. As of March of this year, at least 350 Iraqis are being held in ICE facilities awaiting deportation, some of whom have been in custody for over a year. 

Legal challenges to block the deportations succeeded in U.S. federal district court, but failed on appeal late last year. In April, another attempt at blocking deportations failed on appeal, leaving no more huddles for the Administration to begin mass deportations, aside from Iraq’s requirement that removals must be voluntary. In a likely attempt to pressure the Iraqi government to drop that requirement, in late April the State Department issued a new rule, effective immediately, to give consular officers the ability “to discontinue granting visas to individuals” from a country which had denied or delayed accepting “one or more of its nationals” who have been deported from the U.S. Note that even the delayed acceptance of a single national could trigger this policy, and thus give the State Department legal grounds to deny the entry of all travelers from a country. The Trump administration’s message is clear: no Iraqis will be allowed to travel to the U.S. until the Iraqi government unconditionally and uncritically accepts all Iraqi nationals that the U.S. wishes to remove.

While individual cases will continue to be fought in immigration courts, earlier this month Congressmen Andy Levin (D) and John Moolenaar(R) introduced a bill to halt the mass deportations that the Trump administration is attempting to orchestrate. This bipartisan effort would place a two-year delay on the deportation of any Iraqi national who poses no threat to national security in the U.S. and would face persecution, torture, or death in Iraq. 

While the future of Iraqi nationals in the U.S. remains uncertain, what is apparent is that for over two years the Trump administration has been doing whatever it can to both remove Iraqis present, and to prevent as many Iraqis as possible, from traveling to or residing in the United States.