The United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents rounded up 200 Iraqi Chaldeans -114 from the Detroit area and the rest from different parts of the country, for deportation. This step followed a deal in which Iraq accepted to receive deportees from the US in return for the removal of its name from Donald Trump’s travel ban imposed on seven Muslim-majority countries.
While this is also part of the crackdown enforced by the Trump administration on undocumented immigrants, the Chaldean issue is quite complicated since their deportation could be equivalent to sending them to their death and that is why pressure has been mounting to handle their case differently.
Gillian Christensen, representative of Homeland Security Department, explained that the decision to deport the Chaldeans is legal since all of them were convicted in different crimes in the past including “homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations” among others: “Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under US law and ordered them removed,” she said in a statement.
The ICE also issued a statement stressing that in the arrests its personnel have been doing their routine work of detecting “removable aliens” as the statement put it.
“All enforcement activities are conducted with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day. The focus of these targeted enforcement operations is consistent with the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” said the statement.
Martin Manna, and Iraqi-American Christian and president of the Michigan-based Chaldean Community Foundation, admitted that the detainees do have criminal records, mostly for minor offences like shop lifting, the possession unregistered handguns, and marijuana use, all of which having been adjudicated.
In response to Christensen’s statement, Manna said that only 3-5 percentr of Chaldeans to whom a final order of removal applies have committed the crimes she mentioned.
Manna also clarified that they are not illegal immigrants as they might appear to be. “They all came to this country legally, they’re not undocumented, they came with their families, but they came as children,” he said.
“And for one reason or another the family didn’t apply for their citizenship and before they got their citizenship, they committed a crime unfortunately.”
Manna added that committing a crime robs them of the opportunity to apply for citizenship and makes them susceptible to a final order of removal even if the crime was committed decades ago, which is actually the case with many Chaldeans.
“People would say that if they’re criminals send them back. That’s the law, but there are also laws that protect people from being sent back to a county in which they will be harmed or persecuted,” Manna added, noting that the Congress unanimously agreed that attacks against Christians and other minorities in Iraq are classified as genocide.
“So how can we as a country send them back when we know they’re going to be put in harm’s way? Who are we to give them their death sentence?”
The Michigan branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a petition to stop the immediate deportation of arrested Chaldeans on the basis that they are going to be facing extreme dangers in their home countries.
“Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties,” said Kary Moss, the executive director of ACLU Michigan.
“We are hoping that the courts will recognize the extreme danger that deportation to Iraq would pose for these individuals. Our immigration policy shouldn’t amount to a death sentence for anyone.”
According to the complaint, detained Iraqis should be given the chance to explain to a judge why it is dangerous for them to go back to Iraq.
“[They] cannot be removed to Iraq without being afforded a process to determine whether, based on current conditions and circumstances, the danger they would face entitles them to protection from removal,” said the complaint.
The complaint did manage to stall the process and on June 22, a federal court issued an order to postpone the deportation for 14 days. The order is to expire on July 6.
John Moody, Fox News executive vice president and executive editor, argued that the deportation of Chaldeans is a misinterpretation of Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigrants. “That’s probably not what Trump intended when he ordered a round-up of alien criminals,” he wrote.
Moody added that even though arrested Chaldeans committed crimes in the past, they should not be punished for them by deportation: “To be fair, these aren’t saints. All of the detainees have criminal records, though their lawyer, Clarence M. Dass, argues the majority of the convictions are for minor drug offenses and financial crimes dating back to the 1990s. Some have already served prison sentences for their crimes, and thus, paid their debt to society.”
Persecuted under Saddam
Chaldeans, Catholics who speak Aramaic, were initially persecuted under Saddam Hussein and Chaldean refugees started flooding to the United States in the wake of the first Gulf War.
The taking over of the province of Nineveh, particularly the city of Mosul which was home to the largest Christian community in Iraq, drove more Chaldean refugees to the United States.
According to the Chaldean Community Foundation, around 121,000 live in the Detroit metropolitan area while another 200,000 live in different parts of the United States.