For Reasons Unknown, 20 Iraqi Christians Detained in Southern California: ‘Almost Free, but not Quite Free’

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A Christian woman carries a cross during a demonstration against militants of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), in Arbil, north of Baghdad July 24, 2014. Hundreds of Iraqi Christians marched to the United Nations office in Arbil city on Thursday calling for help for families who fled in the face of threats by Islamic State militants. Photo: REUTERS / STRINGER
A group of 20 Iraqi Christians have been held in a southern California detention facility run by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, for over four months. They are part of the Chaldean Christian community and want to claim asylum from the terror group known as ISIS.
According to a video report filed by Al Jazeera, no reason has been given as to why the Iraqi Christians have been held for a long time. Mark Arabo, an activist for the Chaldean community in San Diego, claimed to Al Jazeera that ICE told him the agency lacked resources to process their claims.
“They’ve escaped living hell. Let’s allow them to reunite with their families,” Arabo said.
Arabo added that the Iraqi Christians were “victims of genocide.”
“They’re being held much longer than they should be, without a real reason,” Arabo said.
Al Jazeera reported that Arabo’s group has called for their release.
“We are protesting,” Arabo quipped. “We have talked to the State Department, the White House, and Congress. We are putting pressure to make sure that they release these 20 innocent people.”
According to Al Jazeera, the suburb of San Diego known as El Cajon is home to “the second-largest population of Chaldeans in America outside of Detroit.” The main area of town has been termed “Little Baghdad,” complete with stores, restaurants and churches representing the Chaldean community.
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“All 20 of the detainees, like Robert Barber, have family willing to sponsor them,” Al Jazeera said.
Samir Hanna, who is related to Barber, talked to Al Jazeera of the conditions his cousin faced in the detention center. The reporter described Barber’s detention as “almost free, but not quite free.”
“It’s a very hard situation for him,” Hanna said. “He’s almost here, but he’s not where he’s at. He’s a very nice person. His big wish was to just come here, live, work, and be happy.”
Al Jazeera noted that ICE turned down their request for an interview. However, in a report filed June 20 by Greg Moran of the Los Angeles Times, ICE spokeswoman Lauren Mack indicated that there were 27 Iraqi nationals being held in federal custody at the center, which is run via government contract by Corrections Corp. of America.
“Given ICE’s limited detention resources and the agency’s policy of holding those who are public safety threats or flight risks, the vast majority of foreign nationals arrested by ICE are, in fact, released under supervision while their cases are pending,” ICE said in a statement.
Bardis Vakili, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Los Angeles Times that ICE has detained far too many asylum seekers for “specious” reasons. He pointed out that under current law, a court hearing must be given to anyone who is in custody for six months and has not seen a judge yet.
“He said the agency’s policies state that if there is a credible claim of asylum, then the person should be released ‘as soon as reasonably practical’ under supervision,” Moran wrote, citing Vakili.
Arabo hoped that the Iraqi Christians would be released from U.S. custody immediately, given what they have gone through to get to the United States.
“These are people who escaped a Christian genocide only to be detained for months, with little or no hope of being released to their families,” Arabo said.
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