Advocates for Chaldean Christians detained by federal immigration enforcement are in a race against time to halt their deportation back to war-torn Iraq.
Beginning last Sunday, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested dozens of Chaldean Christians in the Detroit metropolitan area, and most were quickly sent to detention at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio. Some were taken from their homes in front of their families, and others were reportedly arrested in public places like restaurants.
An estimated 106 Iraqis have been arrested so far, Bishop Kalabat said, "the vast majority of them Chaldean Christian," though there are reportedly Muslims among the detained.
ICE explained in a statement that the Chaldeans had previous criminal records including convictions for homicide, rape, and aggravated assault, had been ordered for removal by a federal judge, and were being deported to Iraq as part of an agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.
They entered the U.S. legally, some of them decades ago, with an eventual path to citizenship, but since then those who committed felonies no longer have a legal path becoming citizens.
Many of the crimes were committed decades ago, in the 1980s and '90s, Bishop Kalabat said, with one case "literally 30 years ago." That man "did his time [in prison], paid the price, has cleared his name," and is now married with four children.
Some may have recent criminal records and can be a threat to public safety, the bishop noted, and if that is the case they should be detained.
He maintained, however, that many of those detained have long been responsible, law-abiding residents.
Chaldeans are native to Iraq and the population has been Christian almost since Christianity began. Detroit is one of the largest Chaldean diaspora communities in the U.S., where an apostolic exarchate was created in 1982. An estimated 30,000 Iraqi refugees have been settled in Michigan since 2003.