Iraqi and Chaldean residents detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement have applied for pardons for state violations from Gov. Rick Snyder as they try to avoid deportation back to Iraq.
DETROIT – Chaldeans and elected officials in metro Detroit are asking the U.S. government to block the deportations of up to 1,000 Iraqi nationals.
After a federal appeals court last week ruled against the Iraqis in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Iraqi American Christians and their supporters in Congress and the Michigan Legislature are mobilizing to lobby the Department of Homeland Security to halt the removal of Iraqis with criminal records.
The decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals went into effect on Tuesday, which means many Iraqis could be deported at any time.
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights, spent two days this week in Washington meeting with members of Congress in an effort to craft legislation that could halt the deportation.
“For many people, this may be life or death,” Manna told the Free Press. “All we ask is they get additional time to get their due process in courts. … They will likely face persecution in Iraq.”
Also this week, four House members, three of them from Michigan, sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence asking him to help block the deportation. And some legislators are now working on a potential bill that would ask the Trump administration to halt deportations based on a policy known as Deferred Enforced Departure previously used to halt the deportations of Liberian immigrants.
“In the past, Vice President Pence has advocated for the protection of persecuted Christians abroad, so it would make sense to pursue his partnership on this issue,” said U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., whose district in metro Detroit has a sizable number of Iraqi Americans. “Iraqi nationals of all religious backgrounds facing deportation could receive a knock on the door … and be deported to Iraq before an immigration court has the chance to individually hear cases. We are growing this bipartisan coalition swiftly, and we are involving all players who have an interest in securing fair and humane treatment for Iraqi nationals.”
The other congressional representatives who signed the letter sent April 9 to Pence were Reps. John Moolenaar, R-Mich.; Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich.; and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb.
“We write to urge you to halt the wholesale detention and deportation of Iraqis living in the United States, including numerous Iraqi Christians and other religious and ethnic minorities,” the letter reads.
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The letter to Pence references a separate letter sent on Friday by 23 members of Congress – led by Reps. Levin and Moolenaar – to then-Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Director of ICE Ronald Vitello. Nielsen has since resigned, and President Donald Trump recently announced Vitello will not continue as head of ICE.
Levin said the two leaving their positions makes it all the more urgent that Pence try to help advocate for the Iraqis.
In Michigan, there’s a separate effort by the state Senate.
Republican state Sen. Jim Runestad offered a resolution this week in the state Senate that says they oppose “the mass deportation of Iraqi nationals in Michigan and the United States.”
The resolution praises Iraqi immigrants, saying that “Iraqi nationals complement our American society with a proven history of contributing to the economic and social well-being of this nation. Metro Detroit has the largest concentration of Chaldeans outside of Iraq, a population of business owners, employees, and families that is indispensable to the local economy.”
A copy of the resolution was sent to ICE.
Regarding the letters sent to ICE, Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for ICE, said that “any potential agency response to this correspondence would come through the appropriate channels.”
In an earlier statement after the court’s ruling allowing deportations, ICE Detroit Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci said: “This decision is a decisive victory further vindicating ICE’s efforts to remove these aliens, many of whom had criminal convictions, to Iraq. The court’s decision again affirms that each individual fully litigated their cases, receiving exhaustive due process. ICE is now reviewing this decision to determine its next steps.”
In addition to the letters, members of Congress are considering a bill that calls upon the U.S. to enact what is called a Deferred Enforced Departure policy for Iraqi nationals living in the U.S. The policy is currently in effect for Liberians because of a civil war and other disturbances in Liberia.
Last month, Trump issued a memo extending the time that eligible Liberians could stay in the U.S. through March 2020, said U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Manna said the policy for Liberians sets a precedent that can be used to help Iraqis stay in the U.S.
Manna said he was asked to visit Washington this week by Moolenaar to help persuade other legislators to block the deportations.
The Iraqi nationals facing deportation came to the U.S. legally, but because they have criminal records, are eligible for deportation. The range of their crimes varies, from minor cases like marijuana possession to more serious cases like assault and murder.
They previously had final orders of deportation by an immigration judge, but until Trump came into office were not ordered to leave. ICE has said previously it reached a deal with Iraq to send the Iraqi nationals back.
“They’re living with a lot of fear and anguish,” Manna said of Iraqi nationals and their families. He noted that Iraq’s Christian population has declined since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, which led to extremists gaining power and driving out minority groups.
The fear of persecution is one of the reasons the Iraqis should be allowed to stay in the U.S., said Manna.
Manna said he has been heartened by the bipartisan support from Michigan’s congressional delegation. In addition to Levin and Moolenaar, other representatives from Michigan who signed the letter to ICE are: Republican Reps. Justin Amash, Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga and Democrats Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Slotkin, Haley Stevens, and Rashida Tlaib.
Follow Niraj Warikoo on Twitter @nwarikoo
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