Members of San Diego’s Chaldean community are supporting a fight to free Iraqis who have been arrested by immigration officials across the U.S., pending deportation.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit late last week on behalf of Iraqis arrested in Detroit. Mark Arabo, of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation, said his San Diego-based organization has been helping coordinate efforts for the lawsuit.
“Our community has really unified in the face of this adversity,” Arabo said via email. “We only hope that some form of resolution is achieved in the coming days.”
Iraq agreed in March that it would provide travel documents for its citizens and allow the U.S. to repatriate them if they are ordered deported. The agreement came as part of a deal to get Iraq off the list of nations affected by President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several majority Muslim countries.
Immigration officers have started arresting Iraqis — about 199 across the U.S., according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Though the largest number of arrests happened in Detroit, this has caused concern among San Diego’s Chaldean community, as many of those arrested so far across the country are Chaldean Christians, a group that has a history of being persecuted for its religious beliefs.
Arabo said his organization has been hearing about local Chaldeans arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers as well, but he didn’t know how many and was unable to identify specific cases.
“ICE took the Iraqi Christian community by storm,” Arabo said. “We really had no idea that this was happening.”
As of April, 1,444 Iraqis living in the U.S. have final orders of removal and could be arrested and deported, according to ICE. So far, eight people have been deported to Iraq since the new agreement was signed. ICE did not say where in the U.S. those deported had been living.
Khaalid Walls, spokesman for ICE, in an emailed statement that the agency focuses its enforcement on those who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security.
“ICE will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” Walls said via email. “All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States. These arrests are consistent with the routine, targeted enforcement action carried out by ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations on a daily basis. All enforcement activities are conducted with the same level of professionalism and respect that ICE officers exhibit every day.”
The lawsuit to stop further deportations was filed late last week as a class action arguing that because of conditions in Iraq — including the Islamic State’s continued presence there — those ordered deported may face persecution or torture if they return home. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Eastern Michigan, called for the court to block deportations and give the detainees new hearings based on changed conditions from when they left Iraq years ago.
While the proposed class would only apply to Iraqis in the Detroit area, Arabo said that he hopes the case will set a precedent for Chaldeans in other parts of the U.S. to be protected from deportation.
ICE planned to file a response to the lawsuit late Monday.
“The operation in this region was specifically conducted to address the very real public safety threat represented by the criminal aliens arrested,” said Rebecca Adducci, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Detroit, in an emailed statement. “The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions, multiple felony convictions in many cases. I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement personnel who, day in and day out, put their lives on the line to protect this community.”
Arabo equated deporting Chaldeans for these convictions to issuing them a death sentence from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“The detention of these Iraqi Christians is unfathomable, unethical, and un-American,” Arabo said. “Some of these individuals have been in the United States for over 30 years and were caught up in a possession charge when they were 17. Tell me, is that worth death by the sword of ISIS? Because if these individuals are sent to Iraq, they will be walking targets for ISIS.”
A judge will hear arguments in the case on Wednesday.
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