Madison Heights man held by ICE reunited with family

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Madison Heights — Warda Slewo wants to put on a suit and head to his church, but he can’t yet bear to leave his home.

Warda Slewo, center, sits with family and friends Friday at his Madison Heights home after spending nine months in an Ohio correctional facility.

Because the last time he returned from church on June 11, Slewo, 51, was arrested outside his Madison Heights home, swept up in immigration raids that the Trump administration ordered last year.

Slewo, an Army veteran who also served time in jail and probation for criminal sexual conduct, was among 1,400 Iraqi immigrants nationwide — 114 from Metro Detroit — who were targeted for removal.

After U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith’s Jan. 2 ruling saying Iraqi nationals should be granted individual bond hearings and freed until their case is determined, his daughter, Ashourina Slewo, felt hopeful.

She raised his $15,000 bail bond and last week, went to the Youngstown, Ohio detention center, where she watched her dad walk out after being held for nine months.

“It was terrible,” Warda Slewo said. “We felt dead inside, physically, mentally, emotionally ... just dead. We didn’t feel like people to the officers. Even when they would bring food, it wasn’t on trays; some food was visibly missing from meals. ... At one point, there was a correction officer who kicked food to us.”

Warda Slewo offers words of praise and affection for his youngest son David Slewo, 16, Friday afternoon, March 16, 2018 at the family home in Madison Heights.

Slewo’s release comes as American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C, claiming the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is unnecessarily detaining many asylum seekers for months while they await hearings before immigration judges.

Families of the detainees say they fear they could be persecuted in Iraq because of their Christian faith if they are returned.

“If he is deported, he will face persecution. He left Iraq in 1993 with my mother to start a better life,” Ashourina Slewo said.

“He will face persecution for a number of things, the first being that he served in the U.S. Army. He was also drafted into the Republican Guard, which makes him a target. And like the other detainees, he’s Christian and will face persecution for that fact alone.”

As of March 16, 150 people remain in detention.

ACLU of Michigan officials told The Detroit News some of those 150 people have been denied bond, haven’t been in detention long enough to get bond hearings, eligibility for bond has been contested and some are waiting to be deported.

ICE officials in Detroit did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

There have been 78 bond denials and 130 grants, 21 of which were recognizance. Of the financial grants, the average bond for detainees is more than $16,000, according to the ACLU of Michigan.

“Data disclosures from the government show that the government has appealed about a dozen of these, and has stayed release based on those appeals,” said attorney Margo Schlanger, a cooperating counsel with the ACLU. “That is, out of the 130 grants, about a dozen are not, in fact, able to get out. Another few haven't been able to come up with the money.”

Dozens of detainees held in the Ohio correctional center went on hunger strike for 100 hours in September after three months of being in detention.

While being detained, Slewo said religion played a large part in holding hope.

“The Chaldean and Muslims would gather together and pray,” he said. “It was when no one had been released, and it didn’t feel like there was an end in sight that many went on the hunger strike.”

He added that talking to family helped, but the costs paid a large toll on the family.

“Talking to family helped, and it was very communal among those imprisoned,” he said. “Those who couldn’t afford to call home would come together to hold out hope for each other.”

Now, he’s constantly fearful, especially with his first ICE check-in next week.

“I don’t know what happened in the facility, but he acts like he’s walking on eggshells. ... He tries to hide it, but I know he’s scared,” Ashourina Slewo said. “He wouldn’t eat, his sleep schedule is off and has nightmares, just so shaky and has episodes ever since he got back.”

Ashourina Slewo said seeing an officer use zip ties to handcuff her father scarred her. During his captivity, she and her three siblings financially supported the family, listened from afar as their father cried for help, and protested in front of federal court awaiting results.

She started a GoFundMe for her father’s $15,000 bail and took out a loan to help cover their legal fees. They currently await his individual hearing, which is expected to take years.

“There’s still a possibility he’ll get deported, but it makes things easier having him close and than having to relay things through the phone,” Ashourina Slewo said.

“To know he’s in his bed if he needed medical attention, he could get it ... to have him here in front of my very own eyes; it’s something I’ll never take for granted.”