Michigan lawmakers oppose removal of Iraqi Christians

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
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Washington — Most of Michigan’s House delegation signed onto a bipartisan resolution this week opposing the administration’s detention of Iraqi Chaldeans and urging President Donald Trump to use his “executive authority and discretion” to defer the deportation of U.S. residents.

Astevana Shaya, 28, of Sterling Heights, wears a Chaldeans Lives Matter T-shirt at a protest on June 12, 2017, after an immigration crackdown that they say could send Iraqi Christians back to a country where they face persecution. On the back is a portrait of her brother, Aysar Shaya, 39, who is being detained.

The measure, introduced Thursday, points out that Trump administration has pledged to prioritize the defense of persecuted minorities around the world and in the Middle East, which would include Iraqi Christians like the Chaldeans.

The sponsors included seven Republicans — Reps. John Moolenaar of Midland, Dave Trott of Birmingham, Mike Bishop of Rochester, Tim Walberg of Tipton, Fred Upton of St. Joseph, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet.

Michigan’s four Democratic members also support the measure — Reps. Sandy Levin of Royal Oak, Dan Kildee of Flint Township, Debbie Dingell of Dearborn and Brenda Lawrence of Southfield.

About 114 residents of Metro Detroit were among 1,400 Iraqi nationals swept up in immigration raids last June and sent to detention centers in Youngstown, Ohio, and elsewhere.

Federal immigration authorities have defended the arrests, saying those rounded up committed crimes and were subject to deportation under the law.

But their families, lawmakers and other advocates have pleaded with the administration not to deport the detainees to Iraq, where, as Christians, they would face persecution, potential harm or death, advocates say.

While a few individuals may pose a threat to public safety or national security, the lawmakers argue the others completed the sentences for their offenses — decades ago in some cases — and have since stayed out of trouble.

“With people’s loved ones detained and the threats of deportation, we wanted to do everything we could to express concern and request the president take action,” said Moolenaar, who has been sympathetic to the families’ situation and pressed immigration and other administration officials on the issue.

“There has been progress in the courts, but that is time consuming and costly, and we wanted to make sure we’re doing everything we can that allows the president to use his discretion.”

Levin said the effort is intended not only to apply pressure on the administration but also to highlight the plight of the detainees — many of whom have longstanding ties to Michigan and have no family or contacts in Iraq.

“We’ve tried everything. Hopefully this will help. So far it’s been a stone wall,” said Levin, who was set to be honored Friday evening by the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce for his work on behalf of the community.

In recent years, the United States didn’t deport people to Iraq because of dangerous conditions there. Congress and the State Department in 2016 determined that the Islamic State has committed genocide against Christians and other religious minorities in the Middle East.

But the Trump administration last year struck a deal with Iraq in which it agreed to accept Iraqis removed from America.

Levin for months sought a copy of the new Iraq policy from officials but said he learned recently that there is no written agreement but a verbal one between two officials.

“They won’t tell us with whom the agreement was reached or what the conditions were — whether there would be any concern about their safety,” Levin said.

“This is symptomatic of immigration policy that’s not only cruel to individuals and their families but ... we’re talking about people who consider themselves Americans, and who have been a part of the American community and surely part of the Michigan community.”

Levin was joined by Moolenaar, Kildee, Lawrence, and Dingell in filing an amicus brief in February with the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in support of the lawsuit brought by the detainees challenging the government’s plan to remove them to Iraq.

That followed a January ruling by a Detroit federal judge who said the detainees may be granted individual bond hearings and possibly freed while their legal cases continue.


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