By Andrew Chung
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a bid to avoid deportation by a Christian Iraqi immigrant who argued he would be tortured if sent back to his home country for a drug conviction after more than three decades in the United States.
The justices declined to hear an appeal by Amir Shabo, who was detained in 2017 during a sweep targeting hundreds of Iraqi immigrants who had prior criminal convictions and had been ordered deported as part of by President Donald Trump’s push to intensify immigration enforcement. Shabo, 51, had challenged a lower court ruling that went against him.
Shabo, a married father of two who lives in Sterling Heights, Michigan, fled Iraq with his family and immigrated to the United States in 1985, becoming a legal permanent resident. Shabo was convicted of cocaine possession in 1992 and served five years in prison.
In deportation proceedings at the time, Shabo argued he would be targeted for persecution in predominantly Muslim Iraq as a member of the Chaldean Christian minority and because he and his brother had refused to enlist to fight for then-President Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi government in 1989.
U.S. and international law prohibit deporting people if they are likely to be tortured. However, federal immigration law typically prevents courts from reviewing the deportation of non-U.S. citizens who have committed serious crimes.
At issue was whether federal appeals courts can second guess immigration officials’ determinations about the potential for torture in cases involving non-citizens with criminal records.
Immigration officials had said that because of Shabo’s criminal conviction his expulsion could not be halted. But Iraq at that time was not issuing travel documents, and Shabo was allowed to remain in the United States.
Iraq in 2017 agreed to accept its citizens deported from the United States as part of a deal to remove the country from Trump’s travel ban targeting people from several Muslim-majority countries.
Anticipating being detained, Shabo asked officials to reopen his deportation case, again arguing that he would be subject to torture, noting the presence of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq. But the Board of Immigration Appeals, an administrative body within the Justice Department, disagreed.
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that under immigration law it did not have jurisdiction to review the board’s decision.
(Reporting by Andrew Chung; Editing by Will Dunham)