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More than 100 Iraqi Christians Face “Death Sentence” if Deported

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The American Civil Liberties Union has argued in federal court for a stay of deportation for more than 100 Iraqi Christians, saying that it would be illegal to deport the group without giving them a chance to prove they could face torture or death if returned to Iraq. The pending removal of the Iraqi immigrants has been a hot topic for weeks, since ICE started detaining them in and around Detroit.

The pending deportations are a result of an agreement struck earlier this year between Donald Trump and Iraq, in which Iraq agreed to take back some of its nationals in exchange for being removed from Trump’s travel ban. Iraqi-American Christian leaders and advocates are incensed about the deportations, however, because Trump has repeatedly spoken about protecting Christians in the Middle East and wanted to increase the number of Christian refugees admitted. Some Iraqi-American Christian leaders endorsed Trump during the campaign, and “Chaldeans for Trump” signs (referring to Iraqi Catholics) appeared at Trump rallies in Michigan, a state he narrowly won.

But now, Trump is seeking to deport them, even though Christians in Iraq have been targeted for genocide, and advocates say their deportation would constitute a “death sentence.” ICE has pointed out that the detainees have previous criminal convictions — but some of the convictions are more than 20 years old, while others involve minor drug offenses and misdemeanors. Some 1,444 Iraqis living in the US have final orders of removal and could be detained and deported; many have been in the country for decades.

Support for Iraqi Christians

The Iraqi Christians have garnered a lot of support. Six US House Representatives from Michigan, including one Republican, wrote a letter to DHS Secretary John Kelly saying that those facing deportation would be harmed in Iraq because of their faith.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, tweeted: “This is wrong, wrong, wrong. A death sentence for those we should be protecting.” And Franklin Graham, the evangelical Christian leader, has said that the possible deportation of the Chaldeans is “very disturbing”:

I would encourage the president to have someone investigate these cases thoroughly. I understand a policy of deporting people who are here illegally and have broken the law. I don’t know all of the details, but I would encourage our president to give great consideration to the threat to lives of Christians in countries like Iraq.

The Washington Post published an editorial in favor of at least taking more time to consider the Iraqi Christians’ petition:

According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, some of the detainees fled Iraq as refugees, and many could face torture and reprisal if sent back. Iraq is notoriously dangerous for its minorities: A 2016 report by Minority Rights Group International found that many minority groups have been almost entirely eliminated after years of repression, displacement and violence. Even though the Islamic State in Iraq has lost territory, deportation could still be dangerous. Advocates have likened the deportations to a “death sentence.”

The removals not only are morally reprehensible but also run afoul of international law. The U.N. Convention Against Torture , to which the United States is a signatory, prohibits the return of a person to a country where patterns of mass human rights violations provide substantial grounds for believing they may be tortured. The gamut of atrocities committed by the Islamic State and other extremist groups in Iraq should be grounds enough…

The potential harm is real enough at least to warrant a case-by-case review. The ACLU of Michigan has filed a class-action lawsuit to halt the deportations until each detainee has the opportunity for a hearing. This is the correct course, both legally and morally. To the administration, it might mean another bureaucratic hurdle, but to the Iraqis at risk of being deported, it could mean the difference between life and death.

Finally, immigration attorney David Leopold conducted a Facebook Live session last week explaining the case of the Iraqi Christians and answering questions. View the videos below: