Some have lived in the city for decades. Some have criminal records. But for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, it is neither just nor humane to deport people who have paid their debt to society and risk persecution if they are sent back. For Father Ghezzi, deportations split families.
Detroit (AsiaNews) – President Donald Trump's hard line on immigration has put more than 100 Chaldean Iraqis at risk of repatriation.
In Iraq, their life would be in danger, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) says in a letter sent to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly. Fr Giancarlo Ghezzi, a PIME missionary and pastor at Detroit’s All Saints Church, agrees. Speaking to AsiaNews, he said that many groups are paying for Trump's policy.
In February, the Department of Homeland Security made more groups subject to deportation. Previously, only undocumented migrants with a criminal record were affected; now anyone who has “committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense” is deportable.
On 11 June, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 114 Iraqis who had a standing expulsion order. According to Foreign Policy all of the detainees were ordered removed to Iraq years ago, but not all have a criminal background — some simply overstayed their visas.
In the past, they were not deported because Iraq had refused to issue travel documents. Baghdad only recently agreed to repatriate its citizens. In exchange, the administration dropped Iraq from the original list of countries banned under Trump’s executive order.
In late January 2017, the Trump administration issued the first ban on nationals from seven Muslim majority states. In the second version in March, Iraq was excluded, leaving Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen on the list.
According to ICE, the detainees are hardened criminals. The New York Times notes that their convictions range from theft to murder. For defence attorneys, the crimes are relatively minor and took place years ago, followed by years, and in some cases decades, of law-abiding behaviour.
One of the petitioners subject to deportation is Jihan Asker, a 41-year-old mother of three children who pled guilty under advisement to a misdemeanour fraud in 2003, paid a fine of 0, and served six months’ probation.
On 19 June, on behalf of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration and Committee on International Justice and Peace wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Kelly asking him to postpone the expulsion of Iraqis “until the situation in Iraq stabilizes and its government proves capable of protecting the rights of religious minorities”.
The bishops “do not minimize the serious criminal offenses of which some of these individuals have been convicted; it is entirely appropriate that they be punished for their offenses. After serving their sentences, however, we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community.”
What is more, “they have a significant risk of experiencing persecution and even possible bodily harm because of their faith”. Many of these Chaldeans do not know Arabic and have Christian symbols tattooed on the body.
US District Judge Mark Goldsmith in Detroit issued a stay of removal for the 114 Iraqis until today. In his opinion, he wrote that if the deportation orders were carried out, the petitioners would suffer “irreparable harm” and a “significant chance of loss of life.”
Deportations do not affect only the Iraqi community. Fr Ghezzi told AsiaNews that the same thing is happening to his parishioners, who are mostly from Mexico, Costa Rica and El Salvador.
The latter have started coming less to church for fear of being stopped by police or the ICE. The number of those coming to the Caritas cafeteria has also dropped.
“They are not coming because they are afraid that they might be stopped when they leave home,” he explained. “They do not move, they do not take risks, even to look for help."
"The problem of expulsions,” he added, “is that they destroy families. Husbands are sent back to the country of origin, and wives and children remain, or vice versa. Families are broken."