Ac­tivists seek re­lease of 20 who fled Iraq months ago.

Chaldean Chris­tians who fled Iraq have been at immigration fa­cil­ity four months.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Greg Moran greg.moran@ut­sandiego.com

SAN DIEGO — A group of 20 Chaldean Chris­tians who are seek­ing po­lit­i­cal asy­lum in the U.S. af­ter flee­ing Iraq un­der the threat of per­se­cu­tion have been held at the Otay De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity for at least four months and should be re­leased to their fam­i­lies while their cases pro­ceed, ac­tivists say.

About 50 mem­bers of the lo­cal Chaldean com­mu­nity held a vigil and protest out­side the jail last week to draw at­ten­tion to the plight of the asy­lum seek­ers, who fled their coun­try out of fear of per­se­cu­tion by the rad­i­cal group Is­lamic State.

Mark Arabo, a spokesman for the lo­cal Chaldean com­mu­nity and pres­i­dent of the Neigh­bor­hood Mar­ket Assn., said 20 peo­ple in the fa­cil­ity have rel­a­tives in San Diego County who are will­ing to be spon­sors, which would al­low the asy­lum seek­ers to be re­leased pend­ing the res­o­lu­tion of their claims. “All we’re ask­ing for is for them to be re­leased to their fam­i­lies,” Arabo said. “Why they aren’t be­ing re­leased now, we don’t know.”

Lau­ren Mack, a spokes woman for Immigration and Cus­toms En­force­ment, said there are 27 Iraqi na­tion­als in ICE cus­tody at the jail, which is run by Cor­rec­tions Corp. of Amer­ica un­der a con­tract with the gov­ern­ment. She could not say how many are Chris­tians.

Arabo said the asy­lum seek­ers have been in cus­tody for at least four months— a far longer pe­riod than for those who have rel­a­tives will­ing to take them.

“These are peo­ple who es­caped a Chris­tian geno­cide only to be de­tained for months, with lit­tle or no hope of be­ing re­leased to their fam­i­lies,” Arabo said.

Mack could not pro­vide de­tails on cases be­cause asy­lum claims are con­fi­den­tial un­less the seeker signs a waiver.

In a state­ment, the agency said de­ci­sions on whom to re­lease are made af­ter a re­view of each case. Sev­eral fac­tors — in­clud­ing a per­son’s crim­i­nal history, flight risk, immigration history and whether he or she poses a threat to public safety — are all weighed.

“Given ICE’s lim­ited de­ten­tion re­sources and the agency’s pol­icy of hold­ing those who are public safety threats or flight risks, the vast ma­jor­ity of for­eign na­tion­als ar­rested by ICE are, in fact, re­leased un­der su­per­vi­sion while their cases are pend­ing,” ICE said.

But Bardis Vak­ili, a lawyer with the Amer­i­can Civil Lib­er­ties Union in San Diego, said the agency is de­tain­ing far too many asy­lum seek­ers on “spe­cious” rea­sons: that they may flee or pose a threat.

He said the agency’s poli­cies state that if there is a cred­i­ble claim of asy­lum, then the per­son should be re­leased “as soon as rea­son­ably prac­ti­cal” un­der su­per­vi­sion. It’s un­clear how many of the Chaldeans in the Otay fa­cil­ity have had a de­ter­mi­na­tion of their asy­lum sta­tus.

Vak­ili said scores of asy­lum seek­ers are lan­guish­ing in San Diego and Im­pe­rial County de­ten­tion fa­cil­i­ties af­ter their claims were de­nied. He­said a bet­ter sys­tem would be to get seek­ers to ap­pear in immigration court early on, where a judge could de­ter­mine who is a risk and who is not, and “triage” the cases. Un­der cur­rent law, if some­one is in cus­tody for six months and hasn’t seen a judge, he or she must have a court hear­ing, Vak­ili said.

John Gastaldo

MEM­BERS of San Diego’s Chaldean com­mu­nity gather out­side Otay De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity to draw at­ten­tion to the plight of 20 asy­lum seek­ers who fled Iraq.

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