Chaldeans rally to free detainees, block deportations

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Detroit – All he wants is for his daddy to come back home.

That’s what a 10-year-old boy said through tears during an emotional rally of Iraqi Christians and supporters, who gathered Wednesday at the McNamara Federal Building to hear legal strategies underway and protest the recent arrest of 114 local Chaldeans by federal immigration officials.

“I want my daddy back,” Caiden Nguyen, a Detroit resident, said as he started to cry. “He’s a good dad. He takes care of us. I want my dad back. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat.”

Nguyen was among a crowd of Metro Detroiters who are mobilizing to stop the deportation of Chaldeans who were arrested over the weekend and face going back to Iraq – a country where Christians are persecuted.

Metro Detroit’s Chaldean community is the largest in the U.S. and those arrested were part of a federal roundup that was one of the largest in years. They, who came to the U.S. as refugees, committed crimes and served prison time years ago but have since gone on to work and raise families, attorneys said.

Deporting them would be a violation of human rights because of the atrocities committed against Christians in Iraq, attorneys and other activists say.

During the rally, attended by more than 100 people, civil rights attorney Shanta Driver announced a two-pronged legal strategy aimed at freeing the detainees and preventing them from being deported.

Among the actions, she said, will be a class-action lawsuit in federal court seeking a moratorium on a policy the U.S. negotiated with Iraq in March; under the agreement, Iraq began accepting deportees from the U.S. for the first time in seven years.

“We are trying to stop (President Donald) Trump from carrying out these deportations,” said Driver, who is national chair of By Any Means Necessary, a civil rights organization. “We have to stop it from going forward.”

Before Driver went on, the crowd erupted into a chant: “Trump must go! Trump must go!”

Driver then outlined another suit, to be filed in federal immigration court, that will seek asylum for those who have been detained because they will face religious and political persecution if sent back to Iraq, she said. Both suits will be filed Friday.

Driver concluded by saying residents must build a movement of immigrant rights.

“It’s a movement for justice,” she said. “It’s a movement for equality. It’s a movement to end the racist policies of the government. It’s a movement to save people’s lives, their futures, their families.”

As protesters were spilling into Michigan Avenue and blocking traffic, someone announced that the ACLU of Michigan had filed a lawsuit, but spokesman Darrell Dawsey said late Wednesday the civil rights organization was still looking at possible actions.

Meanwhile, many local lawmakers — including U.S. Rep. Sander Levin, along with Reps. John Conyers, Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence and John Moolenaar — wrote to Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, expressing concerns about the number of Chaldean Americans who have been detained.

According to Khaalid Walls, an ICE spokesman, immigration officers arrested 114 Iraqi nationals in Detroit over the weekend and 85 around the rest of the country over the past several weeks.

The lawmakers asked Kelly for a copy of the U.S. government’s repatriation agreement with Iraq, and information about safety measures planned for the detainees.

“The State Department Report on Human Rights Practices in Iraq describes the dangerous plight of Chaldeans, and Iraqis of other ethnic and religious groups, who face the real risk of kidnapping and torture by ISIS and other terrorist groups,” the letter said.

“High-level officials from both parties agree that genocide is being committed against Christians in Iraq and Syria. Secretary (of State John) Kerry said so in March 2016, reaffirmed by Vice President (Mike) Pence just last month. Returning these individuals to the humanitarian catastrophe in Iraq violates the due process that these individuals must be provided. They are in the United States and, as a result, are entitled to due process, despite not being U.S. citizens.”

Family members who spoke at the rally confirmed that their loved ones are aware of the risks they face if they are deported.

One woman who spoke during the rally, and later declined to give her name, said federal immigrations officials came for her husband, but he was not home. And now he is now on the run.

Immigration officials defended the arrests Wednesday, saying all of those detained had “very serious felony convictions” and were subject to deportation.

“The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions, multiple felony convictions in many cases,” said Rebecca Adducci, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations in Detroit.

On another legal front, local Iraqi Christians should not be subject to double jeopardy — a second prosecution for the same offense — said a lawyer who has filed motions in Oakland County and federal courts to stop the removal of local residents from the United States.

Southfield criminal lawyer Clarence Dass, who is representing more than a dozen Iraqi Christians who were arrested this week, said all of the local residents who were detained in a sweep by immigration officials have committed crimes and paid their debt with prison time.

He filed an emergency request in federal court to suspend deportation proceedings.

In another legal strategy, Dass also filed a motion in Oakland County Circuit Court to reopen the criminal cases of many of those who face deportation.

Because the cases occurred so long ago, no transcripts or audio are available and therefore an appeal cannot be filed, Dass said. So he is requesting new trials and the withdrawal of pleas.

“Everyone has committed a crime, received a punishment, and now we are punishing them a second time (by deporting them for the crime),” said Dass.

On Thursday, another rally will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, where many of those arrested are being held. After the rally, family members will get to visit their loved ones for the first time.