Franklin Graham denounced it in a tweet to President Trump, who is known to check his Twitter account now and again. Newspaper editorials have called it unjust. Still, unless a judge intervenes, dozens of Iraqi Christians living in Detroit are going to be deported to their war-torn country of origin for crimes committed as long as 30 years ago. That’s probably not what Trump intended when he ordered a round-up of alien criminals.
As many as 114 Chaldean and Assyrian Christians, including some U.S. military veterans, were apprehended on June 10-11 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. Their fate is in the hands of U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, who scheduled a hearing for Tuesday. They are now being held in Youngstown, Ohio.
To be fair, these aren’t saints. All of the detainees have criminal records, though their lawyer, Clarence M. Dass, argues the majority of the convictions are for minor drug offenses and financial crimes dating back to the 1990s. Some have already served prison sentences for their crimes, and thus, paid their debt to society.
“Unless the judge halts this, they’re going to be deported to Iraq, which amounts to harsher punishment that they would receive here in the United States,” Dass told me. “They are being subjected to the kind of religious discrimination our country has been fighting against for years.”
Indeed, congress last March passed a resolution designating Chaldean and Assyrian Christians the targets of attempted genocide by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq. Making things even worse, the majority of the Christian detainees would probably be destined for Mosul, where the Iraqi Army and ISIS are engaged in fierce fighting for control of the city.
In addition to tweeting his alarm, Graham wrote on Facebook: “I find it very disturbing what I have read about Chaldean Christians being rounded up by U.S. ICE for possible deportation. I would encourage the president to have someone investigate these cases thoroughly."
One of the potential deportees, Haydar Butris, 39, was convicted in 1999 of manufacturing and delivering seven pounds of marijuana. Because it was his first criminal offense, he got off with three years’ probation. His brother, Marten Mansor, a U.S. citizen who came from Iraq in 1995, says Butris has had a clean record since then. “When Saddam Hussein was in power, the country was better off. If ISIS gets hold of these people, they will be beheaded or worse. Why send them back to their deaths?”
It’s a question a lot of Christians are asking.