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Clarence Dass on representing Iraqi detainees

By Steve Thorpe
Legal News

An old felony conviction that led to Detroit area man Haydar Butris getting caught up in the June 11 immigration sweep will get another look, an Oakland County circuit judge ruled recently. Clarence Dass, who represents Butris, heads up his own law firm in Southfield. Dass served as an assistant prosecuting attorney at the Oakland County Prosecutor’s Office where he prosecuted thousands of crimes. He was promoted to the Special Victims Section of the Prosecutor’s Office where he handled the most complex and serious crimes. He frequently participates in seminars, events, and speaking engagements around the country aimed at improving the legal profession.

Thorpe: Give us a quick overview of the events leading to this situation.

Dass:
In January, 2017, President Trump signed an executive order banning citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. Amidst the controversy that followed, Iraq sought removal from the travel ban. It negotiated an agreement with the U.S. whereby it promised to take any Iraqi nationals the U.S. wanted to deport in exchange for its removal from the travel ban. The deal was signed, and the result was a massive immigration sweep of 114 primarily Iraqi Christian residents of metro Detroit that took place on June 11, 2017. Those rounded up were arrested by surprise and taken to a facility in Youngstown, Ohio, where they have been detained since then. Haydar Butris is one of them.

Thorpe: You represent 25 of the detainees facing the same fate. Are there other stories similar to that of Butris?

Dass:
They are all virtually the same. The vast majority of the detainees have criminal convictions from the 80s and 90s for drug, financial and other crimes. Many received probation, some served jail, and others prison. Like Butris, they have been rehabilitated, started families, opened businesses, paid taxes, and fully integrated into American society. Despite coming here legally, they were not able to obtain citizenship because of their convictions, but they were also never deportable to Iraq because of the war and the persecution Christians like them faced as a result.

Thorpe: What were some of the issues with Butris’s original trial?

Dass:
Mr. Butris was convicted of one count of Delivery/Manufacture of Marijuana. He had an attorney who, over the course of two years and four months, spoke to him a mere four times. He never received discovery, never discussed plea options, and never discussed immigration consequences of a criminal conviction. At the time of sentencing, that attorney sent a brand new associate with whom Mr. Butris had never communicated.

At sentencing, Mr. Butris, fearful of what could happen to his immigration status, raised his concerns with the judge, who is now retired. According to Mr. Butris, the judge informed him on the record that if he ever faced immigration consequences as a result of his plea, he could petition the court for relief. When Mr. Butris contacted me, we learned that, for some reason, no audio or transcripts are available in his case. Without transcripts, Mr. Butris cannot appeal to the immigration court to stop his deportation. And so brought on our motion for relief in his case.

Thorpe: The Oakland County assistant prosecutor at the recent hearing argued that the local court shouldn’t be handling the case. Does he have a point? Jurisdiction seems to have played a big role in the process.

Dass:
I believe the local court is the appropriate venue because that is where his criminal conviction arose. The local court has jurisdiction under MCR 6.500 (motions for relief from judgment) to hear cases in which circumstances have arisen post-conviction that now merit relief. At Mr. Butris’ initial motion hearing, I analogized it to a patient seeing a doctor. Even though the doctor can treat his current symptom, the only way to prevent the disease in the future is by treating the underlying condition. In this case, Mr. Butris’ current symptom is potential deportation to a country where he would face persecution based on his religion. The underlying condition is his criminal conviction. Relief from his criminal conviction, given all the circumstances in his case, is the only way to save him from being in this situation again.

Thorpe: Some of the detainees are asking Gov. Rick Snyder for a pardon of their criminal convictions. Do you expect that request to gain any traction?

Dass:
The Governor’s office has assured us that it will review each pardon application individually and with great consideration. I believe many candidates like Mr. Butris who have offended only once and have since rehabilitated are excellent candidates for a pardon, especially given the current circumstances they face. I trust the Governor’s office will take that all into account.

Thorpe: What are the next steps for you and your clients?

Dass:
We are pursuing a variety of remedies for all of them. Some motions for relief for their criminal cases, some pardon applications, some motions to withdraw pleas if they qualify. I have been working with immigration attorneys to ensure that each of my clients has the appropriate motions filed in immigration court to stay their removal.

Finally, all my clients are covered under a class action lawsuit in federal court, where the judge has issued temporary stays on their deportation. Work is continuing to be done on that front, and our hope is that we can get to a resolution that will result in a permanent stay and save them from the persecution they would surely face if sent back to Iraq.

 

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