President Trump heard on a flight to Michigan for a speech Thursday about the resurgent auto industry that his administration is deporting hundreds of the state's Iraqi Christians who face persecution abroad -- many of whom voted for him in his narrow victory there in 2016.
By the time Air Force One landed in the battleground state, Mr. Trump had decided to take steps to allow the Chaldeans -- Iraqi Catholics -- to stay in the U.S.
"We have some Chaldeans that are working here," the president told auto parts workers at a plant in Warren, Michigan. "And we talked about it long and hard on the flight in, and we're going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm's way. When I get back [to Washington] we're going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country."
Among the Michigan lawmakers traveling with Mr. Trump was Republican Rep. John Moolenaar, who has proposed a bill with Democratic Rep. Andy Levin that would pause deportations for Iraqi nationals for two years to allow time for them to have their cases heard individually in immigration court.
The Detroit area has one of the largest Chaldean populations outside Iraq, as many as 150,000 residents. The Trump administration is trying to deport more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals, most of whom are Chaldeans living in Detroit. Most of the community is conservative, and they voted heavily for Mr. Trump in 2016 in a state that he won by about 10,000 votes. Some have said they feel betrayed.
Mr. Trump said local officials made a persuasive case to him on the flight to Michigan.
"I said to them, 'I know you have a wonderful Iraqi Christian community in Michigan,'" Mr. Trump said at the manufacturing plant. "And the congressmen were telling me on the plane how rough it's been for them. It's been a very tough time for a lot of Christians all over the world. And so we're going to be extending them. And a lot of people in Michigan have been asking for that. So we'll work with that when we get back with your great congressmen."