Community responds to local ICE actions

By: Eric Czarnik | All | Published June 15, 2017

Photo provided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement

Leaders of metro Detroit’s Chaldean and Arab communities are among those speaking out against the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency’s apprehension of dozens of people around June 11 for possible deportation.

According to local Chaldean and Arab-American advocates, the ICE raids took place in Dearborn, Sterling Heights and Warren. Sterling Heights Police Lt. David Sarvello confirmed the recent presence of ICE agents in Sterling Heights.

“I know that they were in Sterling Heights, but that’s all I know,” Sarvello said. “Obviously, they advised us they would be in Sterling Heights, but other than that, that’s all the information we got.”

ICE Northeastern Region spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email that the detained individuals were ordered to be deported prior to the weekend arrests.

He added that “each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed.”

Walls said Iraq has agreed to take back some Iraqi nationals after engaging in talks with the U.S. He said the “overwhelming majority” of the recently detained individuals have been convicted for offenses such as aggravated assault, burglary, drug trafficking, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, sexual assault and weapons violations, among others. 

When asked about how many people were taken into custody, Walls said ICE has arrested 199 Iraqi nationals throughout the country since May — with 114 of those arrests stemming from the recent Detroit-area weekend operation. He added that overall, 1,444 Iraqi nationals were listed, as of April 17, with final orders for removal.

“The vast majority of those taken into custody are currently detained at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown, Ohio,” he said in an email regarding the Detroit-area detainees. 

Over at the Chaldean Community Foundation, which has an office in Sterling Heights, President Martin Manna said June 13 that the ICE operation was ongoing. He said that from what he has heard, the detainees’ felonies and misdemeanors were predominantly committed in the 1980s or 1990s.

Manna said his organization has been in contact with legislators and has been trying to arrange legal help for the detainees to keep them from being deported.

“Most of them don’t have counsel, so we’re doing what we can,” he said. “These people came here legally, and at some point they might have gotten in trouble with the law. They paid their debt to society.”

While Manna said the U.S. is a nation of laws, he said the law also says that people shouldn’t be deported if they face the risk of torture or persecution back in their homeland. This is particularly true for Chaldeans, an Iraqi Christian group that has been persecuted by the Islamic State group, he explained.

“It’s very clear that the conditions in Iraq are not conditions in which they have any sort of hope,” he said. 

At a Nov. 6 rally at Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights, President Donald Trump elaborated on several planks of his proposed immigration policy.

“A Trump administration will end this nightmare of violence,” he said. “We will stop illegal immigration, deport all criminal aliens, and dismantle every last criminal gang and cartel threatening our citizens.”

Attorney Clarence Dass said that based on his knowledge, ICE’s local detentions took place overnight June 10-11. He said he is representing 15 of the detainees, and he confirmed that at least one of them is from Sterling Heights.

He said that under current immigration law, anyone who is not a citizen and commits a felony is subject to deportation.

“That’s been the case for the past 50 years,” he said. “No president has actually enforced that until now.”

Dass said the individuals taken into custody most recently by ICE are people who have felonies — mainly drug, financial or violent criminal convictions from 20 to 30 years ago.

Dass said the detainees’ attorneys plan to file emergency motions, and two potential legal options exist for them. One is a “changed circumstances” situation triggered by situations in which a deportee could face danger by returning to the native country. In such a situation, the detainee would be kept in the U.S. “until circumstances change for the better,” Dass said.

“You’re sending Middle Eastern people, the majority who are Christians,” he said. “It’s a war zone now. ISIS has taken over.”

He said the other legal option to prevent deportation could become relevant if detainees didn’t know their immigration status would change as a result of pleading guilty to a crime. In such circumstances, the plea could be re-examined and the case could possibly be reopened, he said.

Dass said he expects the judicial system to review the detainees and decide their fates. Meanwhile, he believes that the ICE operations will continue locally.

“This is an ongoing issue that is fluid, and I think there will be a continuous sweep,” he said. “Everyone (potentially affected) should be contacting an attorney or having an attorney present on standby if it happens.”

According to Rula Aoun, director of the Dearborn-based Arab-American Civil Rights League, the detained are mostly Iraqi nationals, either Chaldeans or Muslims, who had deportation orders.

“If they are returned to Iraq, this is a life-threatening situation,” she said. “They’re being basically sent back to their deaths. It really is very sad.”

Aoun said she heard one case of a detainee who committed a felony at around 14 or 15 years of age and then served his time.

“Basically, he has been living a life trouble-free for dozens of years since the incident, and that’s a really long time ago,” she said. “They’re having to pay the price again, even though they already paid those dues to society.”

In a June 12 Twitter post, Sterling Heights Mayor Michael Taylor issued comments about the detentions and called video of family members crying “incredibly heart-wrenching.”

“I understand that these individuals need to be held accountable for their actions, but the punishment needs to fit the crime,” he said. “Deportation to Iraq under current conditions in that country exposes these individuals to persecution that has, in many documented cases, resulted in death. That is a fundamentally disproportionate punishment for many of the crimes committed.”

Taylor added that he hopes ICE officials will weigh each case individually and, when appropriate, prevent “a result that compounds the traumatic impact on these families.”

Rebecca Adducci, who works for ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations in Detroit as a field office director, said in a June 14 statement that “criminal aliens” pose a danger to public safety.  

“The vast majority of those arrested in the Detroit metropolitan area have very serious felony convictions, multiple felony convictions in many cases,” she said.

“I applaud the efforts of the law enforcement personnel who, day in and day out, put their lives on the line to protect this community.”

Walls said his agency will carry out its duties professionally and will make no exceptions related to enforcement based on “classes or categories of removable aliens.”

“All of those in violation of the immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Michigan, and state Sen. Jack Brandenburg, R-Harrison Township, could not be reached for comment by press time. 

Find out more about the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights by visiting www.chaldeanfoundation.org or by calling (586) 722-7253.