Almeezan – Theguardian
Ten years ago, police caught the Iraqi Chaldean immigrant Rani Yousuf with a small amount of marijuana. He completed probation, paid fines, and the conviction was dropped from his record when he turned 21.
Still, earlier this year, Yousuf found his car surrounded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers who arrested him again over the charge. He sat for months in a Michigan county jail facing the prospect of deportation to Iraq, a country he left at four years old. He has no family there, doesn’t speak Arabic, and is part of a religious minority targeted by extremists.
Yousuf is one of over 1,400 Iraqi nationals who the Trump administration is attempting to deport. Most of those are Chaldean – Iraqi Catholics – living in metro Detroit, which holds the world’s largest Chaldean population outside of Iraq.
The administration’s deportation efforts are viewed by many Chaldeans as a shocking “betrayal”, not least because many in the community have been enthusiastic supporters of Trump and voted for him in large numbers in 2016.
The generally conservative community with between 70,000 and 80,000 voters went big for Trump in the 2016 election in a state that he won by only 10,000 votes. They did so after Trump portrayed himself as a “savior” who would stand up for persecuted Christians. “Chaldeans For Trump” signs appeared at Trump rallies and in lawns in Oakland county, a wealthy metro Detroit area where the community is concentrated.
But just months into the Trump administration, Ice swept up 350 Chaldean men and Iraqi nationals. Now, some Chaldeans hold signs at protests reminding Trump “You vowed to protect us”.
“Some people thought ‘Here comes Trump who’s talking a good game about Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted,’” said Edward Bojoka, a Chaldean immigration attorney. “A lot of people in the Chaldean community jumped on that and said, ‘Oh, he’s on our side’, and … some people feel like they were conned.”
But while there’s unanimous disappointment in the administration’s plan to deport Chaldeans, some Chaldean leaders say they still view Trump as a “friend”.
Among those is Martin Manna, director of the Chaldean Foundation and publisher of the Chaldean News. He said that the political parties’ priorities force Chaldeans to navigate Washington in an unusual fashion – Republicans seem more interested than Democrats in protecting persecuted Christian communities abroad, but Democrats are more helpful on immigration issues.
“People ask ‘How come you’re not denouncing Trump?’ We always say we need everyone … and we hope through communication with everyone we can find resolution,” he added.
The Trump administration has deported about 130 Iraqis, and others were removed during the Obama administration.
Ice repeatedly notes that those targeted have criminal records, but internal Ice emails obtained by the ACLU show Ice tactically targeted those with records first. It did so to “grease the skids” to more easily deport those with no criminal record later, said the Michigan ACLU attorney Miriam Aukerman, who is representing Iraqi nationals in a class action suit.
Of the 1,400 Iraqi nationals with final deportation orders, about 800 have criminal records, and those with records were convicted of crimes ranging from minor offenses to more serious, violent charges, some of which occurred decades ago.
The ACLU argues Iraqi nationals deserve new hearings in front of immigration judges because Iraq is far more dangerous than even a few years ago. Under US law, those who commit certain crimes can be deported, but the law also prohibits Ice from deporting individuals to countries where they will be tortured or killed.
Aukerman said the vast majority of Iraqi nationals do receive new hearings because of the increased dangers and many are winning their cases.
Iraqi Christians have thrived for hundreds of years since the advent of Islam and since the country was ruled by a Muslim majority. Much of Iraq is now lawless and Christian minorities are ill-treated – about 1.5 million Chaldeans lived in Iraq before the 2003 US invasion destabilized the country. Many Iraqi Christians held high ranking positions in the government and many were owned prosperous business owners. Today, only about 250,000 remain in Iraq.
The risks are greatest for Americanized Chaldeans. Some arrived in the US as children in the 1980s or following the 1991 Gulf war. Many don’t speak Arabic and don’t have a passport or Iraqi identification. Some no longer have family in Iraq, and would arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs. Some are veterans or worked with the US military.
“The reality is they cannot blend in any more in Iraqi society,” said Joseph Kassab, the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute’s founder. “They do not speak the Arabic language, and they can be easily identified for kidnapping, killing, or for other punishment.”
The ACLU is attempting to track those deportees and found some have been beaten, shot, have disappeared, or are “holed up in homes with machine guns” on self-imposed house arrest, Aukerman said.
Like others who made it in front of an immigration judge, Yousuf’s story had a happy ending – after months in Ice detention, his deportation order was canceled, he was released, and he ultimately ended up receiving citizenship. Still, the lives of most of those targeted by Ice have been “totally destroyed”, Bojoka said.
“The family lost the breadwinner who is in jail awaiting deportation to a place where survival is unlikely,” he said. “That puts fear into the heart of anyone who is affected.”