US Iraqis file lawsuit to avoid deportation fearing religious persecution if sent home

US Iraqis file lawsuit to avoid deportation fearing religious persecution if sent home
Iraqi immigrants detained in a weekend raid have filed a class action lawsuit to halt their deportation in fear of religious persecution if sent home.
3 min read
16 June, 2017
The raids targeted more than 100 people - mostly Chaldean Christians [Getty]

Iraqi immigrants sued the US government on Thursday to avoid deportation following raids last weekend in the Detroit area, saying they feared religious persecution if sent home.

The raids targeted more than 100 people – mostly Chaldean Christians, but also Shia Muslims and Christian converts, advocates said.

Seven of the detainees participated in the class action lawsuit asking a federal court in Michigan to halt the deportation process for all of those arrested.

"Not only is it immoral to send people to a country where they are likely to be violently persecuted, it expressly violates United States and international law and treaties," said Kary Moss, head of the Michigan chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the suit on the detainees' behalf.

The weekend raids sent chills through the sizeable community of Chaldean Christians in the Detroit area, who comprised the majority of those arrested.

"We have seen a number of families who are completely shaken up, in particular kids who are missing a parent," Nathan Kalasho, a Chaldean Christian who operates a charter school in the Detroit area, told AFP prior to the lawsuit being filed.

The Christian population in Iraq has shrunk dramatically, and Kalasho said Iraqi immigrants in Detroit do not believe the Middle Eastern country is safe for religious minorities.

"To send these folks back to a war zone is inhumane," he said.

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement said the immigrants targeted in the weekend raids all had criminal records.

A felony conviction is grounds for deportation in the US, but until a March deal between the two countries, Iraq had not had a policy of accepting its repatriated citizens from the US.

The ACLU countered in its court filing that many of the detainees had minor offenses, and committed no additional crimes after their convictions.

In addition, many of those slated to be deported have already served sentences for their crimes, some of which were committed over 25 years ago.

The group is requesting a hearing Friday at the US District court in Detroit, to ask for a temporary stay to pause impending deportations.

'Death sentence'

The massive crackdown on Iraqi immigrants came as part of a deal which would see Iraq removed from a list of countries included in Donald Trump's travel ban in return for accepting deportees.

Since the agreement was reached with Iraq in March, eight Iraqi nationals have been deported.

As of April 17, however, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with final orders for deportation, Gillian Christensen, a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman, told Reuters.

Most have lived in the US for decades and fear being targeted by extremists should they be sent back to Iraq.

"It is very worrisome that ICE has signalled its intention to remove Chaldean Christians to Iraq where their safety not only cannot be guaranteed, but where they face persecution and death for their religious beliefs," Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Donald Trump has essentially given these Christians a death sentence," Mark Arabo, founder and president of Minority Humanitarian Foundation, told The Guardian.

Many Iraqi-Christians have had family members in Iraq kidnapped and held for ransom because they know they have relatives in the US.

"The government of Iraq cannot protect and defend its own citizens – let alone a bunch of Christians coming from the US," one member of the Chaldean community from Detroit told The Guardian.

Agencies contributed to this report