Last weekend, federal immigration agents took more than 100 Iraqi nationals into custody, with plans to deport most of them. Among the detainees set to be deported are a large number of Chaldeans – a Christian sect. Others are Shiite Muslims. Deporting them to Iraq means they could face persecution in that country.
The American Civil Liberties Union-Michigan has filed a class-action lawsuit to stop the deportations, arguing that the detainees should be given the opportunity to prove they could face torture or death if returned to Iraq.
Nathan Kalasho is a Chaldean community advocate. He also founded Keys Grace Academy, a Chaldean-centered charter school in Madison Heights.
Kalasho says he has been working with the ACLU in Ohio to get legal representation for the more than 100 people detained at a facility in Youngstown, Ohio. He says his sister operates Code Legal Aide, which serves as an advocacy and counseling service for low-income families.
“Sunday night we put out a call for action and opened our doors at Keys Grace for families to come in, and we served as a clearing house for the ACLU,” Kalasho said. “[We’re] sort of acting as a triage center. Families come in, we collect information, and try to link them up with affordable attorneys. We are still recommending that all families retain proper legal representation.”
Kalasho says there is frustration and confusion in the Chaldean community in southeast Michigan. He says the Obama administration recognized Chaldeans as victims of genocide in Iraq, which he says was reaffirmed by the Trump administration and Congress.
According a spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, all but one person detained after the sweep through southeast Michigan has a criminal record, but Kalasho says many of the convictions are decades old.
“Some of them range from 15 to 20 years ago,” Kalasho said. “And they have rehabilitated themselves. So the question is, how could you send these folks back into a fire?”
Kalasho says in addition to the effort to find detainees legal representation, there are multiple other efforts aimed at reaching someone in government with the power to stop the deportations from happening. Kalasho says there is a letter circulating among democratic members of Congress, and there are efforts to try contacting Vice President Mike Pence.
“We’re pursuing political efforts as well as legal efforts,” Kalasho said.
A spokesperson for ICE has also said the rounding-up of Iraqi nationals is “routine,” something Kalasho refutes.
“That’s simply not true,” Kalasho said. “This stems from a quid pro quo between the Iraqi government and the Trump administration to remove Iraq off the revised travel ban list. In exchange, Iraq would take back nationals who were under deportation status in the United States. If this were such a routine thing, then how come some of these folks who have had deportation notices for the last 25 years haven’t been rounded up in the last 25 years?”
Listen to the full conversation with Nathan Kalasho, Chaldean Communities advocate and founder of Keys Grace Academy, above.