Christian activists and families are warning that deporting hundreds of Chaldean Christians who've been arrested by immigration officials in Detroit and across the country could very well be a "death sentence" for them if they are forced to return to Iraq.
Immigration agents have defended their actions, however, insisting that the vast majority of those taken into custody over the weekend have in the past committed serious crimes, such as homicide, rape, aggravated assault, and kidnapping.
Pastor Jalil Dawood, the president of World Refugee Care, who fled Iraq as a refugee during the war with Iran in 1982 and started a new life in the U.S., told The Christian Post on Wednesday, "We can't say these people went through genocide and send them back to be victimized again! We hope and pray that the issue gets resolved."
Dawood continued, "America should never deport Christians to Iraq because they will be in trouble in Iraq as over a million left Iraq since 2003, and this will cause great hardship to their loved ones here," also bringing "harm to them physically, mentally, and spiritually if they [are] ever sent back."
"I understand that some might not have done their paperwork properly or [have] passed their datelines," he added. "But deportation is [an] extreme measure toward peaceful people that just want to survive and do well in this society [and] love America as their new home."
Others, such as Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), who is a Chaldean Catholic of Assyrian and Armenian heritage, described the arrests as "deeply troubling."
"Chaldeans have been targeted by ISIS and subjected to genocide, as have other religious minorities. Their deportation represents a death sentence should they be deported to Iraq or Syria," Eshoo told Catholic News Agency.
"It has also been reported that the individuals have criminal records. If the offenses they committed have already been 'paid for' by serving an appropriate sentence, facing a death sentence via deportation is disproportionate and unjust," she added.
As Detroit Free Press reported on Wednesday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials arrested 114 people in the metro Detroit area over the weekend, many of them from the Chaldean Christian community. Another 85 Iraqi nationals outside of Michigan were also detained.
Families and relatives of those arrested have cried out against the arrests, echoing Eshoo's warnings and are pleading with officials not to send the detained back to Iraq, where the Islamic State terror group has been carrying out a genocide against Christians.
Rebecca Adducci, field office director for ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Detroit, said in a statement that the "criminal aliens" who've been arrested represent a "very real public safety threat."
"The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions, multiple felony convictions in many cases. I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement personnel who, day in and day out, put their lives on the line to protect this community," Adducci said.
ICE spokesman Khaalid Walls added that 112 of the 114 arrested in Michigan had criminal convictions; the other two have pending criminal charges.
Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle, said in a statement to the Chaldean community that the arrests over the weekend were "strange and painful," and said that the threats of deportation have prompted "confusion and anger."
Kalabat positioned that the Church "does not oppose justice," and said that "all hardened criminals that are a danger to society should be picked up."
He added, however, that "many who were picked up are not hardened criminals but for the last decades have been great citizens."
"The genocide bill that was just passed by Congress last week to protect Christians goes against this very thing," he said, referring to bipartisan legislation passed in the House of Representatives seeking to authorize U.S. relief funds towards displaced Iraqi and Syrian Christians facing genocide.
Dawood also urged in his statement to CP that ICE make a distinction "between legal residents and law abiding versus illegal and harmful to America."
"The law is to serve and not harm people, and that would destroy lives and harm many," the World Refugee Care president positioned.
"I pray that this error [is] corrected [so that] these dear people go back to their families and enjoy this great country," he added.
ICE remained defiant in its latest statement on Wednesday, however, and vowed that it "will not exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement. All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
Attorneys for Iraqi immigrants detained in Detroit filed emergency motions on Wednesday requesting that they be allowed to stay in the U.S. They also claim that some of their clients were told by officials to have their families pack their luggage for them.
Clarence Dass, a Southfield attorney who is representing 15 Iraqis who have been detained, told the Free Press that the present circumstances in Iraq do not allow for people to be sent back there safely.
"They can't got back to a war zone," Dass said, noting that a judge will need to grant a hearing, and then a panel of judges would have to decide whether to approve the emergency motion.
CP reached out to several conservative organizations for comment on the developments, but the American Center for Law and Justice, the American Family Association, and Alliance Defending Freedom declined or did not respond to phone and email requests for comment.
CP also contacted the Rev. Franklin Graham and Pastor Robert Jeffress of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, who've been supportive of Trump's refugee and border security policies, but both separately said they were unable to provide comment by press time.