Chaldean Christians in US face possible deportation back to Iraq

World Today

It’s been a month since U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States from six Muslim-majority nations was reinstated by the Supreme Court.

Iraq, the seventh country, was removed from the initial list after negotiations with the White House. As one of the conditions for its removal, Baghdad reportedly agreed to accept Iraqi nationals deported from the U.S.

For years, it had refused to do so, saying that it would only accept individuals with proper Iraqi paperwork, which many Iraqis living in the U.S. do not have.

The apparent policy change caught one particular community in Michigan by surprise.

CGTN’s Roee Ruttenberg has the details.

In one week in June, more than 100 Chaldeans, an Iraqi Catholic sect, were arrested by U.S. immigration officials in the state. Some were picked-up at restaurants while eating, others were just leaving church.

Haydar Butras was home with his three children and extended family. Four immigration officials knocked loudly on the door, his sister Lina said, before being let in to their suburban Detroit house. Inside, Butras was handcuffed and taken away.

His 12-year-old daughter, Lillyana witnessed the whole thing. In shock, she remained silent. Since then, she has seen her father twice at the detention facility where he is currently being held.

“It was behind windows, and I hated it,” Lillyana said. “It was heartbreaking. My brother went up to the security guard and asked him, ‘Hey, can I go hug my dad? Can I hug daddy?’ The security guard looked at him with cold eyes, said no, and just pushed him away.”

Her father was convicted of selling marijuana 20 years ago. He received three years of probation from a criminal court, and, his family said, he has had a clean record since. But the felony on his record meant that he lost his legal status to be in the U.S., and made Butras subject to deportation.

An estimated 1,400 Chaldeans, who’ve been living in the U.S. legally, now face deportation over past criminal offenses. The Trump administration has begun enforcing the deportation orders.

“Every prior presidential administration gave them the assurance that because of the conditions in Iraq, they would never be deported,” Clarence Dass, a criminal defense attorney, who is representing Butras and several other Chaldean detainees said. He said most never appeal their deportations – a costly affair – because there was never any real threat of the orders being carried out.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Congress said the Chaldeans faced genocide in Iraq. Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump himself has repeatedly said Christians in the Middle East are being persecuted. But his Justice Department insists the Chaldeans are violent criminals and a threat.

“The 25 individuals that I represent and the vast majority of people I’ve met when I’ve been to Youngstown, Ohio, where the majority of these people are (being held), have been convicted of drug crimes, financial crimes … in some cases, forging a drivers’ license. And they are now facing a death sentence for something they essentially received probation for,” Dass said.

On Monday, Mark Goldsmith, a federal judge in Michigan, delayed the deportations. Judge Goldsmith ruled that the government must give the Chaldeans a copy of their immigration files, and said then the clock starts: they’ll have 90 days to file a motion to reopen their cases. And before such a motion is decided, Goldsmith said, no one can be deported.

The U.S. Attorney’s office said the judge has no jurisdiction over the cases, noting that it’s a matter for the immigration courts.

Butras’ wife, Wala, is confident the law is on the family’s side. But she still fears the worst if her husband ultimately gets sent to Iraq. “Basically (he will) get killed. He’s very Christian. He wears his cross all day. He never takes it off,” she said. “If he goes walking through the street and ISIL sees him … who knows? They don’t like Christians. So most likely, that’s what’s going to happen.”