U.S. immigration agents reportedly arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians near or at their homes in southeastern Michigan over the weekend, all of whom now face the threat of deportation.
Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has so far declined to say exactly how many were taken into custody, advocates told CBS News at least 40 Chaldeans immigrants — Catholics who hail from Iraq — were arrested in metro Detroit, mostly on Sunday.
Hundreds of people reportedly gathered in Sterling Heights, a Detroit suburb, to protest the arrests Sunday, with many expressing concern for the detainee’s safety.
In a statement released Monday, ICE said the arrests were part of the agency’s efforts to deal with a “backlog of these individuals.” All of those seized had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, weapons violations and other offenses, according to ICE.
“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” ICE said in the statement. “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.”
The vast majority of the Chaldeans arrested were transferred to a detention facility in Youngstown, Ohio.
Nathan Kalasho, a Chaldean American who runs a Detroit-area charter school for Chaldeans and other immigrants from Iraq and Syria, called some of the convictions “petty.”
“Some of them were nonviolent, and some of these were 30 or 40 years ago,” Kalasho told CBS News. “These people have paid their debt back to society; they contribute to the workforce, countless hours.”
Judy Rabinovitz, deputy director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, said the removal orders, although legal, could be decades old and don’t reflect changing conditions in the countries of origin.
“Anyone with a final order is basically vulnerable at this point,” Rabinovitz told CBS News. “The problem is, these aren’t cases where these are people who pose a risk to public safety — it’s just sort of irrational, low-hanging fruit. Get the numbers, get people out.”
The arrests come amid a crackdown on immigration by President Donald Trump’s administration.
Among the Chaldeans seized by ICE agents over the weekend was 47-year-old Baghdad native Moayad Barash, his 18-year-old daughter Cynthia told CNN.