Iraqi Christians rounded up for deportation

Iraqi Christians rounded up for deportation

By Marvin Schrebe

Dozens of Iraqis have been arrested in the Detroit area and now face deportation. Among them are many Iraqi Christians who face persecution at best in Iraq and possibly even execution.

The arrests are seen as the first of many such roundups by the Department of Immigration. Immigration and Customs officials declined to say how many people were involved in the roundup but estimates say at least 40 people were arrested.

An estimated 100 people protested outside a Detroit detention center on Sunday over concerns for the safety of those arrested.

Many of those arrested are Chaldeans, a sect of Iraqi Christians that emerged in the early days of Christianity. Their population has declined in Iraq as hundreds of thousands have fled from war and violence through the decades. Detroit has one of the largest Chaldean communities in the United States. Kurt Metzger, a long-term demographer said there are an estimated 120,000 Chaldean Christians in and around Detroit.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released a statement on Monday stating that all of the Chaldeans arrested had criminal convictions on their records including everything from rape to burglary and drug trafficking. Ice said they were ordered deported by a judge after they were deemed “ineligible for any relief under US law but ICE declined to discuss the appeal process or other legal options. Most of the orders had been issued previously but had not been enforced because no agreement had been reached with Iraqi officials to start allowing the return of Iraqi immigrants ordered out of the USA. Details of that agreement first emerged amid litigation over President Trump’s travel ban. The first version included seven other countries. Another version of the order, intended to calm legal challenges dropped Iraq from the list of countries whose citizens were banned. The travel ban remains on hold while legal challenges are being settled. 

The arrests of the Chaldeans come amidst broader more aggressive immigration policies by the Trump administration.  Immigrant who were issued deportation orders and were subsequently allowed to stay under the prior administration have become a focus for deportation by the current administration. Some were arrested on the spot during check in with immigration officers. These arrests have sent chills through the immigration community. ICE said the Detroit arrests were part of its effort to catch up on case backlogs. A vast majority of those arrested were being detained at a facility in Youngstown OH. Officials refused to confirm specific deportation plans.

Nathan Kalasho, an American-Chaldean educational and community leader whose family operates a Detroit-area charter school for Chaldeans and other immigrants from Iraq and Syria said the deportations were a result of a “back-door deal” between US and Iraqi officials. “Who could think this deal could possibly be good?” Kalasho asked, who added that “it’s especially concerning considering that Chaldean and other Iraqi Christians have been designated as victims of genocide by Iraqi officials.”

“Iraq assumes a few hundred former nationals-some of these people have spent nearly their entire lives here and have committed minor offenses. They’ve paid their debt to society,” Kalasho said.

Civil rights advocates said those arrested were mainly Chaldean. Judy Rabinovitz is the Deputy Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project. She said the deportation orders although legal, could be decades old and do not reflect the changing conditions in the countries of origin. She also said similar orders have been carried out for natives of Somalia and Cambodia.

"Anyone with a final order is basically vulnerable at this point," she said. "The problem is, these aren't cases where these are people who pose a risk to public safety, it's just sort of irrational, low-hanging fruit. Get the numbers, get people out." 

Photo: Friends and family view a bus outside the U.S. Detention and Deportation Center in Detroit, Sunday, June 11, 2017. A mass immigration and deportation sweep and arrest of dozens of Chaldeans in southeastern Michigan by U.S. immigration officials prompted the protest outside the detention center. Family members of the Catholics with Iraqi roots who were arrested indicate most had criminal records and were awaiting deportation. (Gus Burns/The Ann Arbor News via AP)

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