The first U.S. plane since 2010 to deport Iraqi-born residents to their native land left Wednesday — and included at least one Metro Detroit man who went voluntarily, but not one who has been fighting to stay out of the country, officials said.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement confirmed a flight to Iraq had departed with eight residents who were born there.
The first group of removals included Raied Elias Jabou, a Sterling Heights-based Chaldean who had a felony drug conviction and had been fighting to stay in the U.S.
Jabou’s attorney, Robert Birach, said his client had been in ICE custody for almost a year.
“He didn’t want to stay in jail any longer,” Birach said. “He had enough.”
Jabou and the other seven were among 1,444 Iraqi nationals across the country with final orders of removal as of Monday. Of those, 35 were detained, said Khaalid Walls, a Detroit-based ICE spokesman.
Activists have been fighting to stop the deportation of Chaldeans, or Iraqi Christians, since President Donald Trump outlined more aggressive immigration policies after taking office three months ago. Advocates cite genocide being committed against religious minorities in Iraq.
It is unclear how many of the 1,444 Iraqi nationals are Chaldean, Walls said. But activists estimate there are 300 Chaldeans locally with final orders of removal.
Walls said Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly has clearly outlined the nation’s immigration polices.
“ICE focuses its enforcement resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security,” Walls said via email. “However, as Secretary Kelly has made clear, ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.
“All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” Walls said.
For years, the U.S. had not deported residents born in Iraq because Iraq refused to accept deportees without travel documents, local attorneys said. But a new policy was negotiated in February, allowing the U.S. to send back Iraqis, even those without travel documents.
In Jabou’s case, court records show he came to the U.S. in August 1988 and became a conditional resident. In January 2002, he was convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute marijuana in excess of 50 kilograms. An immigration judge ordered his removal in 2005.
“Because he could not be removed to Iraq without required travel documents, he remained in the United States, with supervision,” court records state.
Jabou self-deported to Iraq in January 2009, court documents show. But he came back that year, and United States Customs and Border Protection paroled him into the U.S. for one year.
Jabou petitioned to change his status based on a relative being in the country, but his request was denied and an appeal was dismissed.
ICE agents arrested Jabour in May, court documents show, after he admitted during an interview that he did not have legal status. He was ordered removed in September.
“In late 2016, ICE concluded that Mr. Jabou should continue to be detained,” court records say. “ICE informed him that his detention would continue because the agency was ‘working with the government of Iraq to secure a travel document ... ICE has scheduled a number of removals of Iraqi nationals for April 2017. Mr. Jabou is one of these Iraqi nationals, approved to return to that country.”
Birach said a second custody review was held in March but the U.S. negotiations with Iraq to take back nationals had been completed and a plane was ready.
Family members of Jabou said they were praying for him and his safety, but did not want their names published.
Another Metro Detroit Chaldean, Nahidh Shaou, 55, had expected to be on the first plane to Iraq. Shaou served nearly 34 years in prison for armed robbery and attempted murder after robbing a McDonald’s and shooting a police officer, then was turned over to ICE last fall.
But Shaou, who entered the U.S. as a boy in 1967, was granted a temporary stay of orders to deport him to Iraq and flown back to Detroit from a Louisiana detention center this week.
Shaou’s attorney, Richard Kent, is trying to stop his deportation under an international human rights treaty, the Convention Against Torture, saying that Shaou will be a target of terrorists if he is sent back to Iraq.
“Whatever abominations he committed 35 years ago, he is a tired old man who just wants to enjoy a few years of freedom before he dies,” Kent said. “But if he is sent back, he is going to be living like a nightmare episode of ‘Mission Impossible.’”