On January 2, 2018, Judge Goldsmith from the federal court in Michigan ordered the release of Assyrian (also known as Chaldean or Syriac) Christian detainees who had been held for deportation. In his decision, the judge cited that the country conditions in Iraq precluded the possibility of returning the refugees to their homes safely. The determination came as no surprise to the Assyrian community in the US who have been well aware of the massacres and persecution inflicted on their remaining families in both Iraq and Syria. The judge's determination was also consistent with an official US State Department designation of genocide against Assyrian Christians and other minorities by ISIS. On March 15, 2016, after an agonizingly long, drawn out deliberation Secretary of State John Kerry finally declared that Assyrians had suffered genocide, thereby legally obligating the US to assist the beleaguered community.
Enter then Robert DeKelaita of Chicago. Mr. DeKelaita was a prominent immigration attorney who had for decades advocated for Assyrian Christians who had already managed to enter the US. Mr. Dekelaita had earned his Master's Degree in International Relations from the University of Chicago and his law degree from Loyola University of Chicago. On September 23, 2014, Mr. Dekelaita was indicted on 14 counts of numerous violations including immigration fraud. The basic gist of all of the counts could be summarized as alleging that Mr. DeKelaita fabricated the applicants' immigration applications. During discovery and the ensuing court case, it was revealed that the federal government had been investigating Mr. DeKelaita for over a decade including wire taps and possibly sending imposter clients in a brazen attempt at entrapment after their investigation failed to uncover anything of substance.
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Of the original 14 counts, the number was whittled down to 5 after the prosecution themselves withdrew several counts, and the jury rejected another 1 and reduced 3 substantially. The Judge then tossed out what was left of the 3 counts, leaving one that he referred to as a "close call" for the Court. A final appeal is pending , but of all of the prosecutions' failed witnesses who had testified, only one case remained relevant in the remaining count of conspiracy. The remaining asylum applicant acknowledged in his testimony lying in order to get into the US on a marriage visa before even meeting Mr. Dekelaita. While on the stand, the asylum seeker acknowledged being very active in the Chaldean Church in Iraq. He acknowledged running or owning a liquor store and provided written proof of Islamist threats against him to shut down his store because of Islam's prohibition against drinking. He eventually had his store blown up and provided written proof of a police report. Finally, his business associate was killed by the Islamists. He understandably fled for his safety as he believed his life was in danger and emigrated to the US. Mr. DeKelaita subsequently helped him to prepare his case for asylum.
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Shockingly, while on the stand, the refugee testified that despite the bombing of his store and assassination of his partner, he did not feel threatened while in Iraq and that Mr. Dekelaita had somehow compelled him to make that statement. For those in the community who had suffered the intense persecution and intimidation by Islamists, the statement defied credulity and led many to believe that this witness and others may have been coerced and pressured into testifying. Others have pointed out that an attack in Europe can provoke concern as far as the US, and yet this sole remaining prosecution witness seemed unfazed by personal threats, murder and bombings.
The peculiarity of the zeal with which the US attorney has continued to prosecute Mr. DeKelaita defies rational explanation. Quite ironically, on the very day that Mr. DeKelaita's trial began, the Obama administration, an administration overflowing with irony and contradiction, presented arguments before the US Supreme Court in support of the administration's executive action protecting Central American refugees from deportation. Although Central America may have various social and economic problems, no one with any remaining fairness would or could argue that the conditions faced by Central Americans reached those endured by Assyrian Christians facing genocide in Syria and Iraq.
The crux of the remaining count against Mr. Dekelaita is really whether or not a Christian minority in Iraq or Syria facing written threats, assassination, and bombing would indeed feel frightened or not. And, still more, if he in fact was genuinely frightened for his life to return, then what would have prompted him to testify in court that he was compelled by Mr. DeKelaita to lie? Could the asylum seeker himself already vulnerable due to his confessed marriage visa fraud have been compelled to change his story to suit the prosecution's narrative? Could he also be a victim, having been threatened with deportation (a certain death sentence for him) if he did not toe the prosecutor's line? One cannot be sure, but the strength of the prosecution's last count hangs precariously on a reasonable person's belief that their only remaining witness says he really wasn't fearful for his life despite all he had personally endured in Iraq.
In the meantime, the legal bureaucracy grinds on arguing for or against statutes of limitations as well as other legal machinations important only to those embedded in the process. It is difficult to gauge how much time and money the prosecution has spent over the last decade trying to prove that what Judge Goldsmith and the US State Department acknowledged as persecution and genocide of Assyrian Christians was actually fabricated by Mr. DeKelaita for his clients. But, estimates run into the millions, as deep state vendettas are never cheap. Mr. DeKelaita still has a couple of appeals left, but win or lose, by leveraging the seemingly infinite resources of tax payers, the prosecution has already won. Mr. Dekelaita has lost his law license, his home and has endured the breakup of his marriage. All done for the purpose of saying that Assyrian Christians really have not been victims in Iraq and Syria. But history and perhaps future oversight investigations will tell a different story. Let us continue to hope reason prevails.
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