Community, civic leaders question arrests, ask leniency for ‘human lives’

Detroit — Members of the Chaldean-Christian community gathered in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building on June 16 to protest more than 100 Iraqi-American immigrants being rounded up and detained by federal immigration authorities.

Joined by U.S. Reps. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak) and Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield), members of the Chaldean community held up signs, crosses and American flags, venting their frustration against federal authorities who on June 11 detained their fathers, brothers and uncles, many of whom have been in the community for decades.

The demonstration was organized by Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Chamber of Commerce, who told local media that those who were detained had no prior warning that Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE – would be arresting them Sunday morning.

“I represent a rich cove of the Iraqi-Chaldean community, and when I called Martin Manna, I got here quickly,” Rep. Lawrence said. “Chaldeans are our friends, our neighbors. Why did ICE decide to target and round up Iraqi-Americans? Where is the written policy?” Rep. Lawrence asked, referring to the “verbal agreement” U.S. President Donald Trump cited with the Iraqi government regarding accepting deportees from the United States.

Rep. Levin and five others from the Michigan delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives wrote a letter to U.S. secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, requesting a copy of the U.S. government’s agreement with Iraq so it can be subject to congressional oversight and to hold off on sending the detainees to Iraq until their safety can be guaranteed.

“We are here on behalf of the Chaldean community, proclaiming this as not only a Chaldean issue, but an American issue,” Rep. Levin said. “Secretary Kelly said, ‘We’re only going after the ‘worst of the worst.’ These arrests have been made without regard to what crime has been committed, or what sentences have already been served.

“This is a country that believes in due process for everybody, even for immigrants. America is more than just numbers, but the human lives behind them.”

Family members of those who have been detained shared their stories, stating how many were preparing to attend Sunday Mass when ICE officials knocked on their doors, asking to go with them to the Iraqi consulate; some were promised they would be returned to their homes.

“We’ve heard stories of an 80-year-old man who was carried away by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) in chains,” said Nidal Zawaideh of Bloomfield Hills, who showed up to support her fellow Chaldeans. “They talk about the crimes they’ve committed. This man hit his wife 50 years ago, had the police called. But that was 50 years ago; these people are not a threat to society.”

Fr. Anthony Kathawa, parochial vicar of St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield, said many in the parish and surrounding Chaldean parishes have called, asking for help and not receiving many answers.

“There is a lot of pain and confusion, with them asking questions and getting no answers,” Fr. Kathawa said. “We have to lean on our faith, because there are so many questions. Bishop (Francis Y.) Kalabat has requested every parish celebrate a special Mass and maintain a holy hour at every Chaldean parish in the area.”

Fr. Kathawa couldn’t confirm how many of his parishioners have been detained, saying there have been many.

“The people that are detained, but I never guessed they’d have a criminal background,” Fr. Kathawa said. “They are really involved in their parishes; they’ve brought great change to the community. Those who were convicted of crimes, they’ve paid their debt. Part of Christianity is believing in redemption, believing in forgiveness.”