Trump vows to keep Michigan's 'wonderful Iraqi Christians' in U.S.

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Warren — President Donald Trump, in a surprise announcement Thursday during his visit to a Warren plant, said he would offer relief from deportations of Iraqi nationals who have been fighting to stay in the U.S. for nearly three years.

Trump slipped the comments into his 32-minute speech at Dana Inc. that focused on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The announcement followed a discussion on Air Force One between Trump and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, who in May introduced a bill with U.S. Andy Levin to halt the deportations.

"I know you have a wonderful Iraqi community in Michigan, you know about that, they're wonderful," Trump said. "The congressman was telling me on the plane how rough it has been for them. It's a very tough time for a lot of Christians all over the world.

"... We talked about it long and hard on the flight, and we're going to make sure we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm's way," Trump said about offering extensions to stay in the U.S. 

"A lot of people in Michigan have been asking for that," he said.

Moolenaar, a Republican from Midland, said he was pleased the president talked about the deportations at the plant

"As we have seen in recent weeks, it is not safe for Christians to go to Iraq," Moolenaar said following Trump's speech. "The Chaldean community in Michigan has done so much for our state and they deserve fairness from the legal system."

Trump said he would work to help "those who need," but it was unclear who would be eligible to remain in the United States.

Deportation efforts since June 2017

Hamama v. Adducci, a class-action lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, sought an end to the detention of some 1,400 Iraqis nationally — 114 from Michigan — who had been swept up in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids for deportation in June 2017.

The raids followed Trump's executive order barring admission into the United States of nationals from seven countries, including Iraq. Detainees were being held in correctional facilities while it was uncertain if Iraq would accept repatriated detainees at that time.

Some Iraqi nationals were released in December 2018 after years in detention based on the ruling by U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith, who said ICE could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals while seeking to deport them.

The court has entered three preliminary injunctions; the Court of Appeals vacated two of them in 2018. In the appeal decided earlier this month, federal officials challenged the third injunction, which required the government to release all detainees stated in the class-action lawsuit no matter the statutory authority under which they were held, threatening re-detainment of those released.

Meanwhile, cases can be fought individually through immigration court, although many individuals don't have court dates until January 2021 or 2022 and fear being deported before then.

Iraqi detainees who have served six months do not remain in detention, but lawyers say government officials are trying to deport them before their cases make it through the court system. 

Jimmy Aldaoud, 41 of Shelby Township, who came to the U.S. as a 6-month-old from a refugee camp in Greece, was deported to Iraq after being sentenced on drug possession charges. Aldaoud, who his family said was a bipolar schizophrenic and diabetic, was found dead due to lack of insulin a month later, the ACLU said. 

Fearing the same fate, other detainees with final orders of removal began cutting their tethers in an act of protest.

► More: Fearing deportation, Iraqi refugees cut tethers

Levin said the Iraqi nationals only face deportations because of his administration.

"It should be noted that Iraqi nationals face these precarious circumstances only because President Trump broke with past administrations and started aggressively deporting Iraqis," Levin said. "The president’s words inspire me with cautious optimism, but let me be extremely clear — relief must be extended to all Iraqi nationals who would face danger if they are deported against their will."

Levin said the issue "supersedes partisan politics, and it is not hyperbole to call it a matter of life and death."

"Following the president’s comments today, I will again reach out to the Executive Branch to see how we can work to make his words into reality, and hopefully, save the lives of Iraqi nationals in Macomb and Oakland counties and across the country."

Families look for follow-through

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said he met Trump in late October and talked about the ongoing challenges in Iraq and in the local community.

" 'Iraq's a total mess,' in (Trump's) words, and said he'd try to figure out a way to work on the deportations, and there's been a lot of angst since," Manna said. "Thankfully, Moolenaar had the opportunity to bring it up to Trump traveling between Washington and Warren."

Many Chaldean families have protested since the deportation raids with signs disapproving of Trump as family members were detained. Should he follow through, Manna said, faith could be restored.

"I had a family today that was in tears because their case was denied and with the anxiety of the new (Appeals) ruling, many of these people didn't have much hope," Manna said. "If he follows through on this, I think they'll have hope. He made the announcement, but is he going to act on it?"

Warda Slewo, who was detained for nine months and now awaits a hearing to determine his stay in January 2022, said the pain of separation from his family may be too difficult to forget.

"This is good news of course," said Slewo of Madison Heights. "This is what we've been wanting. But we have been through so much pain and suffering for almost three years now and a lot of things have been said. I'll believe it when I see it."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_