DETROIT – Days before Immigration and Customs Enforcement could begin the mass removal of Iraqi nationals who were previously protected under a court order, a bipartisan group of lawmakers from around the country led by Congressmen Andy Levin (D-MI-09) and John Moolenaar (R-MI-04) is calling on the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to abstain from deporting Iraqi nationals.
Signers of the letter include Reps. Andy Levin (D-MI-09), John Moolenaar (R-MI-04), Justin Amash (R-MI-03), Jack Bergman (R-MI-01), Gerry Connolly (D-VA-11), Jim Cooper (D-TN-05), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), Josh Harder (D-CA-10), Bill Huizenga (R-MI-02), Dan Kildee (D-MI-05), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI-14), Doris Matsui (D-CA-06), Jim McGovern (D-MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA-07), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-09), Elissa Slotkin (D-MI-08), Haley Stevens (D-MI-11), Tom Suozzi (D-NY-03), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI-13).
According to U.S. Census data, Michigan’s 9th District, represented by Congressman Levin, has the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the country. Most lawmakers who signed the letter have significant Iraqi-born communities in their districts.
“This is about fairness and it is about humanity,” Congressman Levin said. “It would be unconscionable for ICE to move forward with mass detention and deportation of Iraqis—many of whom are Chaldean Christians who would face religious persecution in Iraq. So many of the people affected by this decision have known no home except for America, and they have nothing to return to. And when these cases are heard individually in court, justice is often on the side of the Iraqis.
“For these reasons, it is paramount that the Administration abstain from mass deportation and instead allow each case to be evaluated on its own merits. Every Iraqi deserves consideration on a case-by-case basis. The stakes are too high for anything less.”
Levin will hold a public event Saturday in Michigan’s 9th Congressional District with affected families in the Chaldean community calling for ICE to give Iraqi nationals time to re-open their cases in immigration court.
Friday's letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and ICE Acting Director Ronald D. Vitiello expresses strong opposition to mass deportation of the estimated 1,000 Iraqi nationals, and instead asks the Administration to allow each immigration case to be considered individually. There is evidence that Iraqi nationals who have their cases heard are often successful. The letter also requests details on the Administration’s plans for removal of the Iraqi nationals, including whether a deportation agreement exists between the U.S. and Iraq, and what measures will be taken to ensure that religious minorities are protected from persecution.
Among the Iraqis are numerous Chaldean Catholics and other religious minorities who would face grave danger if deported to Iraq, Levin's office said. Chaldean Catholics face active persecution in Iraq, and they will likely be subject to discrimination, violence, and possibly torture or death if deported to Iraq, Levin's office added. Christians in Iraq have been the target of genocide at the hands of the Islamic State, as recognized by former Secretary of State John Kerry, the European Parliament, and various other recognized and reputable international governmental and non-governmental organizations, according to Levin's office.
In June 2017, ICE arrested dozens of Chaldeans in Michigan and threatened to deport approximately 1,400 Iraqis with final orders of removal. A court order in the Hamama v. Adducci case protected this group from deportation unless individuals were willing to return to Iraq. Between then and December 2018, approximately 400 individuals from that group who were set to be deported have had their cases reopened. Some are ongoing, many have been granted citizenship, and others have secured protection against removal under the Immigration and Nationality Act or Convention Against Torture.
In December 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the District Court’s stay of removal, and the order preventing removal remained temporarily in effect during the Court’s consideration of a rehearing. With the Circuit Court’s April 2 denial to grant a rehearing, an estimated 1,000 individuals, including Chaldean Catholics, are now at immediate risk of deportation.
There are around 160,000 Chaldeans living in southeast Michigan, according to the Chaldean Community Foundation.
Read the full text of the letter here.