MH community leaders weigh in on local ICE actions

Concerns raised over minorities being persecuted abroad

By: Andy Kozlowski, Eric Czarnik | Madison - Park News | Published June 26, 2017

 Mary Bahoura, of Warren, cries during the protest.

Mary Bahoura, of Warren, cries during the protest.

Photo by Deb Jacques

MADISON HEIGHTS — Local leaders are voicing their concern after dozens of people were apprehended for possible deportation by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, a concern shared by leaders of metro Detroit’s Chaldean and Arab communities.

Adding to the sense of urgency: Minorities such as Iraqi Christians (Chaldeans) could face persecution, torture or even death at the hands of groups like the Islamic State (ISIS) if they’re returned to their homelands.

“We certainly should be selective in who we let in, but we also must be thoughtful in who we kick out,” said Madison Heights Mayor Brian Hartwell via email. “The argument that ISIS wouldn’t be accommodating to me if I violated their ‘laws’ isn’t a convincing argument for not being accommodating to immigrants in America. Being the self-declared leader of the world imposes a duty on our nation to be deliberative, compassionate, and not ruthless like those foreign enemies we claim to be superior to.” 

According to local Chaldean and Arab-American advocates, the ICE raids took place in Warren, Sterling Heights and Dearborn around June 11. ICE Northeastern Region spokesman Khaalid Walls said in an email that the detained individuals were ordered to be deported prior to the arrests that weekend.

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.

Hartwell wondered what crimes were committed by the non-major offenders. He said that violating sections of Madison Heights’ recycling code or possessing more than three dogs in your house can constitute a criminal act, and that some actions decriminalized in Michigan — like possession of medical marijuana — might still qualify as deportable crimes because they’re illegal elsewhere in the country.

“I wonder whether or not the federal government’s policy on deporting ‘criminals’ paints too broad a brush over relatively mundane behavior,” Hartwell said in his email. “If we agree on which ones to deport, then what? Are we sentencing them to death by sending them back to a country where they will be persecuted, tortured or killed because of their religion or political ideas?

“That’s not hyperbole,” he continued. “Ask the Chaldean students who attend our public schools why their families fled the Middle East. It wasn’t necessarily a choice to move here. It’s usually always because the practice of their religion was a reason to be killed.”

Fear for their lives
Nathan Yousif Kalasho, president of Kalasho Empowerment of Young Scholars, or KEYS — a group dedicated to preserving Chaldean, Assyrian and Syriac culture with a charter school, KEYS Grace Academy, based in Madison Heights — said that he sees the plight of these families every day.

“Several of our students are affected by the latest immigration raids — uncles, cousins, grandfathers,” Kalasho said via email. “There is a common misconception surrounding these folks that needs to be dispelled. These people came here legally, fell into trouble during the naturalization process, and have not had a pathway to citizenship since. They’ve paid their debts to society.

“These men and women escaped persecution. The number of Christians in Iraq and the greater Middle East has dwindled since World War I,” he said. “We have experienced decades of genocide, beginning in the 1915 campaign known as ‘Seyfo,’ or ‘Sword.’”

Kalasho said that in March 2016, Chaldeans were declared victims of genocide under the Obama administration, and the U.S. Congress reaffirmed this with the recent passing of H.R. 390.

“How can you resend the victims of genocide into an inferno?” Kalasho said. “Just a few weeks ago, a popular cleric in Baghdad, who also happens to be a government official, called Christians infidels who were required to pay the hosts extortion or be subject to violence. And now this new administration (of Donald Trump), the same one that boasted about helping Mideast Christians, deliberately rounds them up and threatens to deport to a country fogged in war? Reprehensible.

“If their convictions weren’t enough to warrant a death sentence then,” he said, “why are they enough to warrant a death sentence now?”

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 — something especially true for Chaldeans persecuted by ISIS, he said. 

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

Navigating the law
At a Nov. 6, 2016, 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 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 crime convictions from 20 to 30 years ago.

He 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 their 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 is really 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.”

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.

Kalasho noted the case of one man apprehended by ICE — “a wonderful family man, father of four, business owner and dedicated churchgoer” — who missed his eldest daughter’s birthday and also Father’s Day due to ICE.

“And for what? A firearm possession, nearly 30 years ago,” Kalasho said. “It’s infuriating.”

A call for compassion
Members of the Madison Heights City Council warned against fear getting the best of people, and urged for thoughtfulness.

“I have never understood the so-called immigration issue and the hatred it’s generated,” said City Councilman Robert Corbett in an email. “Point in fact: The average American is at greater risk of terrorist-inspired violence from native-born, right-wing fanatics and American citizens who have been radicalized independent of foreign collusion. Most illegal immigrants in this country are illegal because they’ve overstayed their visas — not because they violated any other laws or statutes.

“I believe the problem in this country is the electorate continues to elect leaders who are willing to exploit the public’s fear and frustration with the economy and changing societal norms by blaming the newcomers. These corrupt leaders think nothing of whipping this fear into hatred of those who look or speak differently than we do, or who worship an alternate vision of God.

“With the exception of our indigenous peoples, we are all immigrants or descendants of those who came to these shores from elsewhere,” he continued. “At one time or another, virtually every demographic segment imaginable — Irish, Italians, blacks, Jews, Catholics and Asians, to name a few — were blamed for weakening and endangering this country. Historically, it’s the cooler, more rational minds that prevailed. We can only hope for a similar result now.”

Mayor Pro Tem Mark Bliss said: “We’re not talking about those who entered the country illegally or about those who’ve committed violence crimes; in many cases, we’re talking about neighbors of ours who committed a small infraction as a young adult, served their sentence, and now years later are being faced with a real risk of death and religious persecution in a country that they don’t even know.

“We are a country of laws,” he said, “but those laws should be created and enforced through a lens of compassion and common sense.”