By Jean Guerrero
Chaldeans protest the four-month imprisonment of refugees at the Otay Detention Facility, June 18, 2015.
San Diego County activists are protesting a decision by U.S. immigration officials to hold in an Otay Mesa detention facility 20 Chaldeans who fled persecution in Iraq.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement has held the refugees for four months at the facility while processing their requests for political asylum. The Chaldeans are an Iraqi Christian minority that is fleeing from the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
Mark Arabo, spokesman for the local Chaldean community, said the refugees all have families in San Diego County willing to sponsor them, and that they should be released to those families while their cases are pending.
“These Christians have escaped slavery and death from ISIS only to be imprisoned,” Arabo said. “The symbol for America is the Statue of Liberty. It’s not a gated fence.”
The activists held a protest and vigil outside of the detention facility on Thursday. They are planning to hold more demonstrations in the coming weeks calling for the immediate release of the Chaldeans.
Arabo said the activists are working with the American Civil Liberties Union and other human-rights organizations to obtain the release of the refugees. The Otay Detention Facility is now holding 27 Iraqi nationals who are in the custody of ICE, Arabo said. At least 20 of them are Christians.
ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack said processing times for asylum seekers vary on a case-by-case basis.
“These are Christians who had no other choice. There is no processing for refugees in Iraq,” Arabo said. “We call on ICE to immediately release them and let them reunite with their families. We need to embrace them, not imprison them.”
He said he plans to visit the White House in the next couple of weeks and will mention the case of the Christians.
About 65,000 Chaldeans live in San Diego County, Arabo said.