Amid Washington’s raging debate over refugees and religion, more than two dozen Iraqi Christians who crossed into the U.S. from Mexico in hopes of joining their friends and families are being deported after their bids for religious asylum were rejected.
A total of 27 Chaldean Christians, driven from their homeland by Al Qaeda and ISIS, entered the country in April and May, hoping to join the thriving Iraqi Christian community in and around San Diego. But the door to America is being slammed on the 17 men and 10 women over what their supporters say are technicalities.
“These are families who were split up because of religious persecution, and now the government – which we love – is preventing them from being reunited,” said Fr. Michael Bazzi, of St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral, in El Cajon. “We wonder why, for thousands of Muslims, the door is open to America, yet Christians are not allowed to come.”
“We wonder why, for thousands of Muslims, the door is open to America, yet Christians are not allowed to come.”
- Fr. Michael Bazzi, St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Cathedral
The Chaldeans are among tens and possibly hundreds of thousands of Christians from Iraq and Syria who have been displaced by fighting and persecuted by Al Qaeda, ISIS and even the Iraqi government. But because some had first gone to Germany before making their way to the border, and in some cases were deemed to not have been forthcoming about it on their applications for religious asylum, they were held at the Otay Detention Center in San Diego since entering the U.S. while their applications were considered. So far, 22 have been ordered out of the U.S. and the other five are awaiting a likely similar ruling.
“We will continue to seek to remove the ones who have been ordered removed,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Lauren Mack told FoxNews.com.
Not all of those marked for deportation have been sent out of the country yet, and where they will go is not even clear. As part of any removal operation, ICE must obtain a travel document for the individual they are removing. Officials say the process can cause delays, sometimes for a very long time. If the country named on an immigration judge’s removal order refuses to accept the individual back, ICE must continue the process, while seeking to find another “safe country.”
San Diego is home to one of the largest Chaldean populations in the country and several of the 27 were seeking reunification with other family members willing to take them in.
Their supporters say that holding the Iraqi Chaldeans responsible for mistakes made navigating the U.S. immigration bureaucracy is unjust given that the U.S, is currently considering fast-tracking the resettlement of 10,000 mostly Muslim refugees from Syria.
In September, Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) introduced the Refugee Resettlement Oversight and Security Act. If enacted, it would help to mandate priority migration of victimized religious factions. But for the Chaldeans awaiting deportation or already deported, it may all be too little, too late.
President Obama has objected to prioritizing Christians or other religious minorities over Muslims amid the current refugee wave, sparking a major debate with critics. Republicans and Christian leaders say persecuted religions should be afforded extra protection, while some in the GOP also say Islamic terrorists could hide among legitimate Muslim refugees from the Middle East.
“If the particular security threat you are concerned about is jihadist terror, there are no Christian jihadist terrorists,” Andrew McCarthy, the former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York who led the 1995 terrorism prosecution against Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, told FoxNews.com. “But for the purpose of asylum analysis, the question is likelihood of persecution. There is no question that Christians face more persecution in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East than Muslims do. We should acknowledge that Christians are being subjected to genocide and take steps to protect them.”
Although one of the most ancient civilizations in the world, Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from around 1.5 million in 2003 to far below 200,000 now in what many scholars condemn as tantamount to 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