A US judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the deportation of about 100 Iraqi nationals rounded up in Michigan in recent weeks who argued that they could face persecution or torture in Iraq because they are religious minorities.
US District Judge Mark Goldsmith issued an order staying the deportation of the Iraqis for at least two weeks as he decides whether he has jurisdiction over the matter. Goldsmith said it was unclear whether the Iraqis would ultimately succeed.
The arrests shocked the close-knit Iraqi community in Michigan. Six Michigan politicians in the US House of Representatives urged the government to hold off on the removals until Congress can be given assurances about the deportees' safety.
The Michigan arrests were part of a coordinated sweep in recent weeks by immigration authorities who detained about 199 Iraqi immigrants around the country. They had final deportation orders and convictions for serious crimes.
The roundup followed Iraq's agreement to accept deportees as part of a deal that removed the country from US President Donald Trump's revised temporary travel ban.
Some of those affected came to the US as children and committed their crimes decades ago, but they had been allowed to stay because Iraq previously declined to issue travel documents for them. That changed after the two governments came to the agreement in March.
A US Department of Justice spokeswoman could not immediately be reached for comment on the ruling.
Lee Gelernt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union representing the Iraqis in Michigan, said: "The court's action today was legally correct and may very well have saved numerous people from abuse and possible death."
The US government has argued that the district court does not have jurisdiction over the case. Only immigration courts can decide deportation issues, which can then only be reviewed by an appeals court, it said.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement has said that people with convictions for murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, burglary, and drugs and weapons charges were among the Iraqis arrested nationwide.
The ACLU argued that many of those affected in Michigan are Chaldean Catholics who are "widely recognised as targets of brutal persecution in Iraq".
Shia Muslims and Christian converts were also detained in Detroit. Kurdish Iraqis were also picked up in Nashville, Tennessee, activists and family members told Al Jazeera.
One of the petitioners, Moayad Barash, 47, was detained by immigration agents during a family beach outing in June. The Chaldean Christian served time for drugs and other offences while a teenager, but has become the breadwinner in a family of four children - all US citizens.
"We're hoping they release him and stop the deportation and bring the families back home, where they belong, before Father's Day," his daughter, Cynthia Barash, 18, told Al Jazeera earlier this month, referring to the June 18 celebration.
"We really want our best friend to come back home. We don't need our father or anybody else in the Chaldean Christian community to be sent back to Iraq to be tortured. If you look up what they do to people in Mosul, it's crazy."
Chaldeans are indigenous Iraqis linked to the Roman Catholic Church and mainly based in northern Iraq for centuries. They began migrating to the Detroit area in the 1920s. According to the Chaldean Community Foundation, an estimated 200,000 Chaldeans live in the US.
Source: News agencies