Column: Deportations should be humane

Jim Runestad

I consider myself a staunch law-and-order legislator. My passion for the rule of law is what motivated me to run for office, and during my first term, I introduced measures to enforce penalties for sanctuary cities and prevent taxpayer dollars from funding companies hiring illegal workers.

However, I also consider myself a humane citizen of this republic. In that vein, I would never condone sending individuals living in this country, regardless of immigration status, back to their home country to face torture and murder due to their religion, race, creed, ethnicity, gender or other factor.

Although I have been a critic of the vetting provided for many of the hundreds of thousands of refugees admitted to this county, I have also been a critic of our allies in the Middle East who refused to absorb these refugees regionally. These refugees could relocate in neighboring nations at a fraction of the expense, with relative safety, where they would be able to practice their religion and speak fluent Arabic while immersed in a familiar culture.

The immigrants with the most to fear are minorities in the Middle East. I have worked with many leaders of the Chaldean community to highlight their plight and prevent the ongoing genocide of Christians in the Middle East. The idea that entire communities have been leveled and populations slaughtered for their religious beliefs violates all basic principles of humanity. I cannot be silent when genocide hangs in the balance.

This month, a group of Iraqi immigrants with criminal records was rounded up to process for deportation. These Iraqis were here in the United States with papers but without citizenship. The majority of those who were rounded up to process for deportation were Chaldeans in southeastern Michigan who have committed crimes in their past. Some of these people came to the United States decades ago as children, were placed in Detroit and lured into a culture of crime. Many of them served lengthy prison sentences in the 1980s and 90s. They were not deported due to the horrific fate they may face in their homeland.

These Christians, now scheduled for deportation decades after the crimes they committed in their youth, may very well be tortured and killed for their religious persuasion. This decade our nation has taken in thousands of refugees, with little reliable vetting, simply because they want a better life. However, now we find ourselves conversely pondering returning individuals who came here more than four decades ago as children and now face indescribable death.

Although I certainly don’t condone the crimes of their youth, some of the non-violent individuals in this group served lengthy sentences, were released and went on to become law-abiding and productive members of their communities.

These decisions on deportation must be given substantial consideration. Discernment must weigh the process and whether justice will be served by the consequences. Each of these cases should be reviewed and evaluated based on the life the individual has lived since serving their sentence and whether a death sentence is now warranted.

I applaud U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith for issuing a stay in these deportations on Thursday. We need to be certain of due process and sure that we are not sending nonviolent, repentant individuals to face torture and death because of their religion.

Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake represents Michigan’s 44th district and serves as chair of the House Judiciary Committee.