An Iraqi-born Michigan man who successfully resisted deportation once is now arguing he should be allowed to stay in the U.S.
Immigration agents tried to deport Muskegon resident Oliver Awshana, 31, this summer. But he put up such a fight, the pilot refused to fly with him on the plane.
On Monday, Awshana--who came to the U.S. as a teenage refugee--was back in Detroit immigration court, pleading for a second chance at asylum.
Awshana's lawyer, Shanta Driver, said that as a Chaldean Christian with no remaining family in Iraq, Awshana will be in grave danger if returned to Iraq.
"He is just a dead man walking from the minute he arrives there," Driver said.
Driver and other advocates point to the death of deportee Jimmy Al-Daoud earlier this year as evidence that Iraq is too dangerous for these Iraqi nationals, most of whom have spent years or decades living in the U.S., to return to.
Awshana pleaded guilty to drug possession in Ottawa County in 2017. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took him into custody in March 2018, as part of the Trump administration's push to deport Iraqi nationals with criminal convictions.
Many of those Iraqis are Chaldean Christians like Awshana, who argue they face likely persecution, torture or death if returned to Iraq. Some 1,400 Iraqis were part of a class-action lawsuit that challenged their deportations.
A U.S. district court judge put the deportations on hold, ruling the Iraqis should be given the chance to argue their cases in immigration court first, but the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision.
Daniel W. Smith, an Iraq-based human rights observer and journalist, says he's testified on Iraqis' behalf in more than a dozen immigration cases. He says the returned Iraqis are not given proper identification papers, making it a virtual certainty they will be detained at one of Iraq's thousands of checkpoints manned by security forces and militias.
"There's a lot of reasons why [Awshana] faces a high likelihood of being indefinitely detained, and facing torture as a regular tool of interrogation, which in Iraq it is," Smith said.
"There's a lot of specific issues that he would face added scrutiny for. And scrutiny and suspicion is something that leads to detention and torture, if you don't have family connections, if you don't have any way to prove who you are."
Smith testified as an expert witness on Awshana's behalf on Monday, but didn't get a chance to finish his testimony. Awshana's hearing will continue at a later date.