Chaldeans plead for mercy for family, friends facing deportation

Local Chaldean Catholics hold signs in front of the U.S. federal building in downtown Detroit on June 16 asking local and federal officials to delay the deportation of 114 Iraqi immigrants who were arrested June 11. With Christians facing violent persecution in the Middle East, friends and family say deportation would pose a grave risk to their safety.

‘We don’t know why this is happening right now’

Past crimes play role in detention, but some date back 30 years or more

Detroit — With 114 Iraqi immigrants, most of them Chaldean Christians, being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, their friends and families are seeking answers from civic leaders and guidance from local clergy.

Hundreds of local Chaldeans have been detained by ICE in Michigan, Ohio, Louisiana and Arizona since raids were carried out June 11.

Sabah Shaba of St. George Chaldean Catholic Church in Shelby Township said his brother, Adel, was arrested by ICE agents at his home on 20 Mile Road in Shelby Township that morning.

The Shaba brothers came to the United States in the early 1980s, and 32 years ago, Adel served two years in jail for possession of marijuana, his brother said.

Fr. Anthony Kathawa, pastor of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield, prays for the safety of those detained June 11 during a rally in downtown Detroit on June 16.

“He’s retired, he used to work in sales,” Shaba said about his brother. “Since he was released 32 years ago, he hasn’t done anything to anyone. There was nothing in the mail, no warning.”

Shaba and his family took part in a demonstration before the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building on June 16, worried his brother would be deported to Iraq, “a country he hasn’t been to for years.”

“The last time my brother was in Iraq, it was 1980; he doesn’t know anyone there,” Shaba said. “They are not telling us much. They said bring 40 pounds of clothing and they will send him back to Iraq.”

On June 22, U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith granted a temporary stay for the arrested Iraqi immigrants, citing a claim by lawyers defending the immigrants that their lives would be endangered if they were deported to Iraq.

Bishop Francis Y. Kalabat of the Southfield-based St. Thomas the Apostle Chaldean Eparchy has been in contact with civic leaders and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which wrote a letter to John Kelly, secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, expressing the bishops’ concern about the dangers facing the immigrants were they to be deported.

A woman holds a sign urging President Donald Trump to find another solution to the situation of 114 detained Iraqi immigrants, citing the president’s January tweet that “Christians in the Middle-East have been executed in large numbers.”

“Returning religious minorities to Iraq at this time, without specific plans for protection, does not appear consistent with our concerns about genocide and persecution of Christians in Iraq,” the letter read. “We strongly encourage you to exercise the discretion available to you under law to defer the deportation of persons to Iraq, particularly Christians and Chaldean Catholics, who pose no threat to U.S. public safety, until such time as the situation in Iraq stabilizes and its government proves wiling and capable of protecting the rights of religious minorities.”

On a state level, Bishop Kalabat said Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s office is considering granting pardons to detainees guilty of prior state offenses.

“Gov. Snyder has agreed to look at all the state offenses, which gives an automatic six months to look into the cases,” Bishop Kalabat said. “There are probably 40 or 50 cases that I’ve heard that will fall under state jurisdiction for pardoning.”

Bishop Kalabat was quick to add neither he nor the Chaldean community is asking for dangerous criminals to be returned to the street, but urged discretion regarding those whose crimes were less severe.

“Obviously, Gov. Snyder shouldn’t give a blanket pardon, and we’re not asking for blanket pardons,” Bishop Kalabat said. “If someone is a threat to society, they need to be judged on an individual basis.”

For now, local Chaldeans are dealing with limited contact with their families since the sudden arrests and detentions.

“It was Sunday morning and we were getting ready to go church, and ICE came asking for my husband,” said Nahrain Hamama of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield. “They said they were going to take him down to the (Iraqi) consulate for the night.”

Hamama said her husband has been reporting his whereabouts to immigration officials for years, after he was convicted of a felony road rage incident in 1987.

Since then, Sam and Nahrain married at Mother of God Chaldean Cathedral in Southfield in 1994 and have raised a family of four children while Sam has been working as a manager in a local food market.

“Prior to his road rage incident, he filed papers for citizenship, but he never got a return, so he didn’t reapply,” said Nahrain Hamama, who became a citizen in 1980. “He had a green card, but they confiscated it in 2011, and we don’t know why. But he’s done nothing wrong. And we don’t know why this is happening right now.”

Bishop Kalabat said the Chaldean community’s focus is twofold: First is rallying local officials and legal resources to see a just end to the situation. Second is calling upon Christ for spiritual support for a community that wants to see their families reunited.

“The role of priest or bishop is Jesus Christ,” Bishop Kalabat said. “We need to keep focused on him in the worst of times. We have a prayer we pray at every Mass, ‘Our hope is in the Lord.’ Our hope is not in President Obama or President Trump; we look to them to do their civil duty. But our ultimate hope is in God.”