Chris­tians is­sue plea for Iraqi crim­i­nals

Say Chaldeans face per­se­cu­tion, death

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY STEPHEN DINAN

They are con­victed mur­der­ers, rapists, bur­glars and drug traf­fick­ers whom the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is try­ing to kick out of the coun­try — yet a mas­sive back­lash has formed, with ac­tivists say­ing if the peo­ple are sent back home they face per­se­cu­tion and po­ten­tially death at the hands of a hos­tile pop­u­lace and an un­car­ing gov­ern­ment.

The peo­ple in ques­tion are nearly 200 Iraqis who are ei­ther il­le­gal im­mi­grants or who came to the U.S. legally, then com­mit­ted crimes that make them de­portable.

But most of them are Chaldean Chris­tians, which makes their re­moval a thorny ques­tion.

“Send­ing Chris­tians back to Iraq, in this case Baghdad, is ef­fec­tively a death sen­tence,” said Steve Oshana, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of A De­mand for Action, which ad­vo­cates for vic­tims of what the U.S. gov­ern­ment has la­beled a geno­cide, at the hands of the Is­lamic State, of Chaldeans and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties.

The sit­u­a­tion has drawn at­ten­tion of im­mi­grant rights groups and mem­bers of Congress, and a few of the Iraqis have even chal­lenged their de­por­ta­tions in fed­eral court. A court hear­ing is slated for Wed­nes­day in the Eastern Dis­trict of Michi­gan.

For years, they had lit­tle fear of be­ing de­ported. Iraq was one of about two dozen coun­tries that gen­er­ally re­fused to is­sue travel doc­u­ments al­low­ing the U.S. to send peo­ple back.

That all changed in March when Pres­i­dent Trump won an agree­ment for bet­ter co­op­er­a­tion from Iraq in ex­change for drop­ping the coun­try from his ex­treme vet­ting tar­get list.

Now, with Iraq ac­cept­ing de­por­tees again, of­fi­cers from U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment went out to pick up many of the peo­ple they had to re­lease over the years.

Some 199 Iraqi na­tion­als have been ar­rested since May, in­clud­ing 114 in the Detroit area in one week­end this month.

Nearly all of those picked up have crim­i­nal records that in­clude homi­cide and sex­ual as­sault. Two of those de­tained have no con­vic­tions but face pend­ing crim­i­nal charges for drug traf­fick­ing and mul­ti­ple ar­rests for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, and one per­son has no crim­i­nal record but has been or­dered de­ported.

“The op­er­a­tion in this re­gion was specif­i­cally con­ducted to ad­dress the very real pub­lic safety threat rep­re­sented by the crim­i­nal aliens ar­rested,” said Gil­lian Chris­tensen, a spokes­woman for U.S. Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment. “The vast ma­jor­ity of those ar­rested in the Detroit metropoli­tan area have very se­ri­ous felony con­vic­tions, mul­ti­ple felony con­vic­tions in many cases.”

Im­mi­grant rights ad­vo­cates usu­ally say that is ex­actly the kind of per­son they want ICE to tar­get — crim­i­nals — rather than rank-and-file il­le­gal im­mi­grants with cleaner records.

But the Chaldeans are turn­ing that ar­gu­ment on its head.

A group of evan­gel­i­cal church lead­ers fired off a let­ter Mon­day to Home­land Se­cu­rity Secretary John F. Kelly ex­press­ing “grave con­cern” about the de­por­ta­tion of Chris­tians.

“We do not min­i­mize the se­ri­ous crim­i­nal of­fenses of which some of these in­di­vid­u­als have been con­victed; it is en­tirely ap­pro­pri­ate that they be pun­ished for their of­fenses,” the lead­ers of the Evan­gel­i­cal Im­mi­gra­tion Table wrote. “How­ever, hav­ing served their sen­tences, we must se­ri­ously con­sider whether it is just to de­port a per­son who poses lit­tle risk to the Amer­i­can pub­lic to a sit­u­a­tion where they are likely to ex­pe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant harm be­cause of their faith.”

Mem­bers of Congress have be­come in­volved and de­manded a freeze on de­por­ta­tions.

The law­mak­ers, a group of Democrats from Michi­gan, also asked for a copy of the agree­ment that the U.S. worked out with Iraq on repa­tri­a­tions. They are hop­ing to learn what sorts of pro­tec­tions the Mid­dle Eastern na­tion has put into place.

U.S. of­fi­cials de­clined to pro­vide a copy of the agree­ment to The Wash­ing­ton Times, say­ing it needed to be re­quested through cum­ber­some open­records laws. The Times has filed such a re­quest.

Mr. Oshana said the sit­u­a­tion for Chris­tians in Iraq has grown dire over the past 15 years. Their num­bers have dropped from 1.3 mil­lion to 250,000, and 99 churches have been bombed.

“The Iraqi gov­ern­ment has not done a damn thing about it. This is a pat­tern of per­se­cu­tion that our peo­ple have faced,” he said. He said that calls into ques­tion any as­sur­ances the Iraqi gov­ern­ment has given the U.S. about pro­tect­ing de­por­tees.

Mr. Oshana said the ar­rests in Detroit this month were par­tic­u­larly up­set­ting be­cause they were on the three-year an­niver­sary of the Is­lamic State’s at­tack on Mo­sul, which was home to many Chaldeans but which he said was aban­doned by Iraq’s troops.

“To me, the fact that that hap­pened [on the an­niver­sary] was an in­di­ca­tion of sort of how lit­tle cul­tural un­der­stand­ing peo­ple have — cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity — to the trauma and vic­tim­iza­tion our peo­ple have in­curred,” he said. “To me, things like that are al­ways a sign that OK, clearly no­body was sort of aware enough of that re­al­ity to maybe do it the week af­ter.”

The Iraqi Embassy in Wash­ing­ton didn’t re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment.

The Times also re­quested more de­tailed in­for­ma­tion on the crim­i­nal con­vic­tions amassed by the tar­gets, but ICE did not pro­vide it.

In briefs filed Mon­day, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion ar­gued that the case doesn’t be­long in court be­cause the law leaves these kinds of de­por­ta­tion de­ci­sions to the ex­ec­u­tive branch. The Jus­tice Depart­ment said the Iraqis can ask for their cases to be re­heard by the board of im­mi­gra­tion ap­peals, where they can ar­gue that con­di­tions in Iraq have changed.

“The re­moval or­ders have been in place for years, and it was not un­til the de­ci­sion to ex­e­cute the or­ders and re­move pe­ti­tion­ers that they sought re­lief based on changed con­di­tions in Iraq,” the gov­ern­ment said.

Eight Iraqis have al­ready been de­ported since March.

Iraq is one of nearly two dozen coun­tries that made a habit of thwart­ing de­por­ta­tions un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. Mr. Trump has cut that list to 12.

The worst of­fend­ers re­main Cuba and China. As of last year, the U.S. was try­ing to de­port some 35,000 Cubans with crim­i­nal records, while the num­ber of crim­i­nal mi­grants await­ing de­por­ta­tion to China stood at 1,900.

What to do with those who can’t be re­turned is a tricky ques­tion. They are sup­posed to be un­der su­per­vi­sion, but the crim­i­nals of­ten com­mit more crimes. In one in­fa­mous case, Haiti re­fused de­por­ta­tion of a man re­leased af­ter serv­ing a sen­tence for at­tempted mur­der. Within months, he killed a young woman in Con­necti­cut af­ter a dis­pute with her boyfriend.

Mr. Oshana said the Iraqis in these cases have served their time and been re­ha­bil­i­tated. He said many of them grew up in the U.S. and don’t have fam­ily in Iraq, nor do they speak Ara­bic. He said law­mak­ers in Wash­ing­ton need to find a long-term so­lu­tion that keeps them in the U.S. — a so­lu­tion, he said, that should in­clude a path to cit­i­zen­ship.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

SPEAK­ING OUT: Ni­dal Zawaideh joined hun­dreds of oth­ers on Fri­day in down­town Detroit to protest the re­cent ar­rests of 114 Iraqi na­tion­als, pri­mar­ily Chaldean im­mi­grants.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Aste­vana Shaya, 28, at­tends a protest against the ar­rests of Chaldean Chris­tians in Michi­gan by U.S. im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials, who want to de­port them to Iraq.

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