Wall Street Journal
By Ian Lovett and Kris Maher
June 12, 2017
Attorneys and Chaldean community groups said they were working Monday to stop the deportation of at least several dozen Iraqi Christians arrested over the weekend in the Detroit area, arguing they could become targets of sectarian violence if they return to Iraq.
The arrests were part of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement sweep that began early Sunday morning that apparently focused on undocumented members of the community of Iraqi Christians, known as Chaldeans, with past criminal convictions.
The roundup sparked outrage in the Iraqi Christian community well beyond Detroit, the largest concentration of Chaldeans in the nation. It quickly became the latest flashpoint in the Trump administration’s stepped up efforts to deport people with criminal records.
Chaldean activists, who have been pressing for several years to allow more Chaldeans to enter the U.S., say that the consequences could be dire for Iraqi Christians who are sent back to their homeland, because Islamic State has been wiping out the country’s Christian population. Last year, John Kerry, who was the Secretary of State at the time, called the attacks on Christians in Iraq a genocide.
“If they go they will be captured, they will be tortured and they will be killed,” said Joseph Kassab, founder and president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield, Mich.
Mr. Kassab and other longtime Chaldean community advocates said they believed the deportation effort was ironic given President Donald Trump’s pledges to aid Christians facing persecution in the Middle East and around the globe.
In recent months, the Trump administration has been targeting undocumented immigrants with criminal convictions, including low-level ones, for deportation, and individual ICE agencies have a lot of leeway in carrying out the president’s goals.
A spokesman for ICE said the people who were arrested were undocumented and had been convicted of serious crimes that included homicide, rape and assault. He said Iraq agreed to accept Iraqi nationals following recent negotiations with the U.S. and that the agency was working through a backlog of these individuals.
“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 U.S. law and ordered them removed,” said the ICE spokesman, Khaalid Walls. He declined to say when deportations would begin.
Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Chaldean Christian population has been steadily shifting away from their homeland in Iraq and toward the U.S.
There are now around 400,000 Chaldeans in Iraq, down from 1.4 million before the invasion. There are currently roughly 250,000 Chaldeans in the U.S., most of them in Michigan and Southern California, according to Chaldean church officials.
The arrests over the weekend took many by surprise, according to several accounts by family members.
Cynthia Barash, 18 years old, said her father, Moayad Barash, was arrested Sunday evening near their home in Warren, Mich., after they had spent the day at the shore. A few blocks from his home, ICE pulled him out of the car and took him away, she said. His youngest daughter, 7 years old, watched from the back seat as her father was put in handcuffs.
Ms. Barash said her father had been in the country since he was 8 years old. He is now 47, the manager of a grocery store in the Detroit area, and the father of five daughters.
“We’re just in shock right now,” Ms. Barash said. “He’s a loved person in the community.”
Everyone in the family is a U.S. citizen, she said, except for Mr. Barash, who was unable to get citizenship because of a felony drug charge when he was 17. He served several years in jail, Ms. Barash said, and has had no legal trouble since then.
She added that her father, who is originally from Baghdad, no longer has any family in Iraq. If they send him back, she said, “He’s going to get hurt. It’s not good for him to be there. It’s not safe.”
After he was detained, the Barash family and other Chaldeans went to an ICE detention facility in the Detroit area, where they said they saw her father and about 40 other people, all handcuffed, moved from the facility into a bus with barred windows.
Jalal J. Dallo, an attorney in Southfield, Mich., said he saw two buses depart from the Detroit ICE field office containing Chaldeans headed to a correctional facility in Youngstown, Ohio., and believes more than 100 people in the community were arrested. ICE didn’t confirm the number of arrests.
Mr. Dallo said he is representing about half-a-dozen families, including several on a pro bono basis.
“We’re trying to look at it as a case-by-case basis and stop deportation,” he said.
Mark Arabo, founder of the Minority Humanitarian Foundation and a Chaldean-American, said his group planned to file a federal lawsuit this week, asking for a stay of any deportations of Christians back to Iraq.
“It’s a complete nightmare, not just for the families but for the entire community,” Mr. Arabo said. “You can’t send them back to Iraq. It’s inhumane.”
Write to Kris Maher at email@example.com and Ian Lovett at Ian.Lovett@wsj.com
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