Nearly two dozen Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS and crossed into the U.S. from Mexico seeking religious asylum have been denied protection and could be booted from American soil within days, a federal official said.
Some 27 Iraqi Christians, known as Chaldeans, were held at the Otay Detention Center in San Diego since entering the U.S. in April and May. Seven have already been extradited, and five more criminally charged with making false statements. In all, 22 have been ordered out of the U.S. and five still have asylum applications pending, according to Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in San Diego.
“This is extremely disturbing and wrong," Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International, told FoxNews.com. "I've never seen anything like this and I've been doing this work for more than 20 years. Western governments should allow persecuted minority Christians asylum within their borders. This should be a priority over other asylum seekers.”
“This is extremely disturbing and wrong."
- Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International
Jacobson and other critics say the Obama administration has turned its back on Christians in the Middle East, whose numbers have dwindled in the face of ISIS, which forces Christians to convert, pay a special tax or face execution in the territory it controls within Iraq and Syria. A Gatestone Institute report notes that since the start of this year, more than 4,200 Muslims have been admitted into the U.S. from Iraq, but only 727 Christians – making it a ratio of around 5 to 1 – despite the fact that Christians are a heavily targeted “infidel” minority.
Mack insisted that the Iraqi nationals in question have not and will not be sent back to their war-torn home country, but instead “repatriated” to "agreed upon" countries like Germany and Sweden.
San Diego is home to the largest population of Chaldeans in the U.S., and several of the 27 held at Otay have family members willing to take them in.
“Until this decision, having a family sponsor has always been a huge positive factor in adjudicating asylum cases,” said Jacobson. “Christians are facing unspeakable torture and atrocities at the hands of ISIS.”
Yet Mack said that there are legal immigration protocols that need to be followed for family sponsorships, which, in this case, were not adhered to by the Chaldeans. Under international law, asylum is only granted in specific emergency situations in which an individual or group requires protection from persecution. A select few of the criminal complaints against the Chaldeans, provided to FoxNews.com by ICE, contain statements and allegations that at least some of them – although born in Iraq – held German passports and had been living there for a number of years. In interviews with officials, some applicants allegedly admitted that their claims of family threats were “fabricated” to assist with their applications. Details regarding the remaining Chaldeans could not be discussed due to the confidentiality of their applicants.
American Center for Democracy CEO Rachel Ehrenfeld pointed out that all refugees – regardless of religion – should be heavily scrutinized by officials before being granted entry into the U.S.
“I’m not surprised by ICE ruling, especially since it seems several, if not all, lied on their asylum application,” she said.
But Jacobson said the process may “make it impossible for any Christian man, woman or child facing persecution because of their faith” to gain entry and holds grave fears for the religious minority. No one disputes that the Chaldeans are originally from Iraq, and given that they can't return to their homeland, Jacobson wonders why they can't live with family in the U.S.
Iraq’s Christian population is one of the most ancient in the world, but is teetering on extinction amid Islamic extremism and government corruption – dwindling from around 1.5 million in 2003 to well below 200,000 now. Under the reign of ISIS, Christians in the region have been brutally persecuted and intentionally crucified, with their own churches reportedly used as torture chambers in which they are given the grim option of converting to Islam or being slaughtered.
“I feel like my world has been turned back to 100 years ago,” one Christian farmer who fled Mosul, Iraq, during the ISIS takeover told FoxNews.com. “That day was like Armageddon. ISIS is killing us slowly.”
The militant group has also destroyed countless time-honored Christian monasteries and holy sites in a twisted attempt to eradicate the faith. In Defense of Christians, a persecution watchdog group, earlier this month lobbied on Capitol Hill for lawmakers to pass a resolution characterizing ISIS’s targeting of the Christian minority as “genocide.”
Hollie McKay has been a FoxNews.com staff reporter since 2007. She has reported extensively from the Middle East on the rise and fall of terrorist groups such as ISIS in Iraq. Follow her on twitter at @holliesmckay