The Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights is working with lawmakers in Congress to make sure Iraqi nationals who have removal orders get individualized assessments before any decision on deportation is made.

The Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights is working with lawmakers in Congress to make sure Iraqi nationals who have removal orders get individualized assessments before any decision on deportation is made.

File photo by Erin Sanchez

Chaldean group works with Congress to prevent Iraqi deportations

By: Eric Czarnik | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published April 12, 2019


STERLING HEIGHTS — The local Chaldean community is not delaying its efforts to work with lawmakers to prevent hundreds of Iraqi nationals from being deported without personal assessments.

Three Democratic U.S. House members — Andy Levin, Brenda Lawrence and Rashida Tlaib — appeared at an April 6 press conference at the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights. They talked about a bipartisan letter that opposes deporting certain Iraqi nationals in a blanket manner.

In an April 5 announcement, Levin said 23 Congress members signed the bipartisan letter, which asks the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement to not deport detained Iraqi nationals as a bloc but to allow them to have their cases individually heard and judged.

Letter signers from Michigan’s U.S. House delegation include Democrats Debbie Dingell, Dan Kildee, Brenda Lawrence, Andy Levin, Elissa Slotkin, Haley Stevens and Rashida Tlaib. They also include Michigan Republicans Justin Amash, Jack Bergman, Bill Huizenga, Paul Mitchell and John Moolenaar.

According to the lawmakers, a recent 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling is making this matter urgent. They say about 1,000 Iraqi nationals could be affected if lawmakers or the Trump administration don’t move quickly.

Martin Manna, the president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, told the Sentry April 10 that he had recently gone to Washington, D.C., and met with lawmakers, particularly from the Michigan congressional delegation. He said he saw firsthand the effort to defer enforced departures for Iraqi nationals at risk of deportation.

“What this will do mainly is put a halt on detentions and deportations for a specific period of time,” Manna said concerning the proposal.

Manna added that the lawmakers’ letter and campaign have a lot of moving parts, and the recent resignation of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen “certainly complicates things.” But he was hopeful that Congress could move on legislation in May, following a recess.  

Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin said his district is home to both the Chaldean Community Foundation and the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the U.S.

In 2017, ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi nationals in Michigan, including in Sterling Heights. But a federal judge from the Eastern District of Michigan issued an injunction that put a stay on mass deportations.

Levin said the court “ordered ICE to slow down,” allowing some cases to be individually reviewed. Over the following months, about 300 Iraqis were reassessed, and many were able to avoid deportation as a result, he said.

However, in December 2018, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to strike down the district court’s orders, and in April the court declined an en banc review of the decision by all of that court’s judges, thus ending the judicial process. This opens the door for deportations to restart, Levin said.

In a statement, ICE Detroit Field Office Director Rebecca Adducci praised the recent decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“This decision is a decisive victory further vindicating ICE’s efforts to remove these aliens, many of whom had criminal convictions, to Iraq. The court’s decision again affirms that each individual fully litigated their cases, receiving exhaustive due process. ICE is now reviewing this decision to determine its next steps.”

In 2017, ICE Northeastern Region spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email that the “overwhelming majority” of the Iraqi nationals who were detained in the government’s raids had earlier been convicted for crimes, including aggravated assault, burglary, drug trafficking, homicide, kidnapping, rape, robbery, sexual assault and weapons violations.

Levin said some of the Iraqi nationals have orders of removal because they had “done something wrong” back in the 1980s or 1990s, but he added that was before the Iraq War and the Islamic State organization made Iraq so dangerous.

Levin said many of the Iraqi nationals in this situation are Chaldeans, a Christian population that has suffered severe religious persecution in Iraq. He said he has heard stories of Iraqis who have been killed after they returned to that country.

“You just can’t overstate how wrong it feels to deport these people back to Iraq anyway, given the situation on the ground,” he said. “Back 15 years ago, there were about 1.5 million Chaldeans in Iraq. Today, there’s only 250,000. The community has mostly been wiped out.”

Despite the nationals’ orders of removal, many of them have continued to report to the government periodically without any deportation attempt — at least until recently, he said.

“The bottom line is, until we have relief for these Iraqi nationals, I’m very, very worried about it,” Levin said. “So we’re just working really hard in a bipartisan fashion to get DHS and ICE just to treat each of these Iraqi nationals as an individual … so each person is able to have their case opened and heard individually. It’s a very American request: American justice for each individual.”

Both Manna and Levin said their campaign has not faced any significant, organized political opposition so far. Levin added that he and his allies have reached out to Vice President Mike Pence’s office too.

“We’re trying to pursue an administrative solution and a legislative solution at the same time,” he said.

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