ICE arrests in metro Detroit terrify Iraqi Christians

Iraqi Christians detained by ICE in Detroit
Iraqi Christians detained by ICE in Detroit

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Story highlights

  • ICE says Iraq accepting Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal
  • The Christians, known as Chaldeans, were picked up in a sweep on Sunday in metro Detroit area

(CNN)A family Sunday at the beach turned out to be a nightmare for the Barash family and for metro Detroit's Chaldean population -- Catholics who hail from Iraq.

Authorities seized Moayad Barash, 47, and whisked him away, his daughter Cynthia, 18, said.
    Barash, a Baghdad native, was one of 30 to 40 people seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Sunday -- all of whom face the threat of deportation.
    "My dad is Christian and Donald Trump is sending him back to a place that is not safe whatsoever," Cynthia Barash said, referring to the persecution of Christians in Baghdad, Mosul and across the largely Muslim nation.
    The ICE action comes amid the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration.
    In Michigan, many of the Iraqis detained have been living in the United States for years. Some have earlier convictions for minor crimes. Moayad, for example, had been caught with marijuana two or three decades ago and had been charged, his daughter said.
    "He did something wrong 30 years ago. He didn't do anything today, yesterday, a year ago," Cynthia Barash said.
    Asked for comment about the arrests, ICE said in a statement, "As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal."
    "As part of ICE's efforts to process the backlog of these individuals, the agency recently arrested a number of Iraqi nationals, all of whom had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses," the agency's statement reads. "Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed."

    Fighting back

    The Minority Humanitarian Foundation, a group formed three years ago for victims of ISIS, is planning a federal lawsuit to stop any deportations. It is a nonprofit that works with the State Department to provide aid for displaced people in the Iraqi region.
    Its representatives say around 30 Iraqi Christians have been detained and transferred to a detention facility in Youngstown, Ohio. The precise number of detentions is unclear; other reports say around 40 people were seized. A CNN affiliate reported Muslims also had been detained.
    Each of the cases is different, but many involve parole violations from 13 or 14 years ago, said Mark Arabo, foundation president.
    "Some have issues with probation or green cards, but most are here legally," he said. "Families are being broken up, none of them are threats to society. They are mostly men."
    Lundon Attisha, the foundation's communications director, said some of the people have been in the United States for more than 30 years.
    "These are American citizens by all intents and purposes, They're not Iraqis. If they are put back to Iraq they face death, simple as that. A lot of individuals don't have families there anymore. They have no protection. Their homes are likely run over by ISIS," Attisha said.
    He said the group is working to raise awareness, intervene in whatever way possible, and contact elected officials "to see what we could do to ease this tension that's happening now."

    Iraqi and Christian

    Christians have been living in Iraq for centuries. Many of the Christians who made their way to the United States are Chaldeans. They are indigenous Iraqis and Eastern Rite Catholics whose spiritual leader is the Patriarch of Babylon, according to the Chaldean Community Foundation. They are affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church.
    Some of them started immigrating to the United States in the 1920s for opportunities and freedom, the foundation said.
    Many faced persecution during the Saddam Hussein era, during the Iraq war and after ISIS, the Sunni terror group, seized territory in Iraq, including places with Christian heritage and population like the northern city of Mosul.
    In recent years, Christians been fleeing their homes in Baghdad and in Nineveh province, where Mosul is located.
    The foundation said metro Detroit has the world's largest population of Chaldeans outside of Iraq, with an estimated 121,000 people.
    Many of those carried away in cuffs during these raids were Chaldeans, bewildering people who thought of themselves as Americans.
    Arabo said sending these people back to Iraq is "like sending cattle to a slaughter."
    "These are Christians that will be slaughtered as they arrive in Iraq. It's inhuman, it's unfathomable, it's unbelievable and we will file a federal lawsuit asking for a stay," he said.
    "The fact that Donald Trump could be sending Iraqi Christians to a genocide zone is beyond reason. It makes no sense," Attisha said.

    Outrage at Trump

    Outside an ICE office in Detroit on Sunday, dozens of nervous people congregated. CNN affiliate WDIV interviewed two people whose husbands were detained. "I voted for Trump thinking he would protect ethnic minorities," Shantal Hanna said. "Now it's blowing up in my face."
    Zeinab Al-Badry said there's "a reason why we fled our country. It's not to have fun in America, but to be safe."
    CNN affiliate WXYZ said people were from the metro Detroit areas of Sterling Heights, Troy , West Bloomfield Orchard Lake, Southfield and Dearborn.
    Jeremiah Suleiman, whose uncle was detained, said his relative has been in the United States for 35 years.
    "If my uncle gets sent back, it's basically sending him to a death sentence, just like everybody else here," said Suleiman. "We've been here all of our lives."
    Suleiman said he would urge President Trump to support the Chaldean community as they supported him in the presidential election, according to WXYZ.
    "Whoever is making this decision, you guys need to really review these files, and review the cases before we decide to send anybody back," he said.
    There were expressions of sharp anger toward the Trump administration. "Shame on Donald Trump," Arabo said. "He campaigned on helping Christians, helping the under-served, on fighting ISIS when actually his actions are emboldening ISIS. "