Iraqi detainees to be deported, some charged with fraud

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Twenty two of the 27 Chaldeans at Otay prison have been ordered deported, five criminally charged
Mugshot of Tatiana Sanchez
By Tatiana Sanchez
In this file photo, members of San Diego’s Chaldean community gathered at the Otay Detention Center to pray and protest for Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS. They are in custody at the Otay Detention Center after Crossing US-Mexico Border. Photo by John Gastaldo/U-T San Diego/Zuma Press
In this file photo, members of San Diego’s Chaldean community gathered at the Otay Detention Center to pray and protest for Iraqi Christians who fled ISIS. They are in custody at the Otay Detention Center after Crossing US-Mexico Border. Photo by John Gastaldo/U-T San Diego/Zuma Press — John Gastaldo

After more than six months in detention, all 27 of the Iraqi Christians being held at the Otay Mesa Detention Facility have either been charged with immigration fraud or been ordered deported by an immigration judge.

Five of the Iraqis have been charged with immigration fraud and remain under U.S. Marshal custody at the Otay prison. An additional seven already have been returned to Europe, where they were living before attempting to enter the United States illegally, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Fifteen remain in ICE custody pending their deportation in the following weeks. Generally, once deportees are given a final removal order by a judge, ICE officials begin making travel arrangements.

The five being criminally charged — Eva and Thamer Sadek Eshoa, Reta Marrogi, Valentina Adil Slewa Zori and Devid Benjamen Nooh Yako — have been charged with making false statements in immigration applications, court documents show. If convicted, they face a penalty of up to five years in custody and a $250,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.

All those charged have similar stories of having left Iraq and receiving citizenship or temporary stay in European countries such as Germany or Sweden, where some lived for several years. They left Europe and took flights to Mexico this year, where they attempted to enter through the San Ysidro Port of Entry without documentation, often under aliases and falsified birth dates, according to court documents.

They omitted having lived in other countries in their applications for asylum. One woman falsified claims that her family was threatened by ISIS, according to a criminal complaint.

Ginger Jacobs, a San Diego attorney who has worked with Iraqi immigrants for more than a decade, said it raises a red flag when asylum seekers are detained for a lengthy period.

“Asylum is for emergencies only,” she said. “There are many, many people fleeing Iraq for bona fide emergency reasons. But if somebody is able to live as a citizen in a country like Germany or the United Kingdom or Australia, then they don’t necessarily deserve an emergency remedy such as asylum.”

The group of 27 Iraqi Christians — also known as Chaldeans — had been detained in Otay for more than six months as their immigration cases proceeded, according to local activists and family members.

Chaldeans have fled Iraq in overwhelming numbers in recent years, escaping deadly persecution at the hands of the Islamic State terrorist group, also known as ISIS.

While thousands of families have fled to neighboring European countries, many look to the U.S. and in particular to El Cajon in East County, which maintains the second largest Iraqi population in the country after Detroit.

The detention of the 27 Chaldeans had been the focus of rallies and protests in Otay Mesa in recent months, as Iraqi community members called for their release. Refugees who escaped religious persecution in their home countries shouldn’t flee to the U.S. only to be jailed here, they argued.

Mark Arabo, a spokesman for the local Chaldean community and president of the Neighborhood Market Association, has led efforts to highlight the plight of Iraqi Christians.

Arabo contends that the United States isn’t doing enough to help these refugees and in doing so is turning a blind eye to a “full-blown genocide.”

Arabo has said his organization has been working with 20 of the 27 Iraqi detainees, who he said reached out for help. He was not available for comment Wednesday.

“We realize that their situations are in limbo, but we are doing our best to protect their interests and the interests of their families,” Aamer Moshi, spokesman for the group of 20, said in a statement.

“There are obvious issues with ICE we are trying to work our way through. But we are sure that with their assistance, and the assistance of the individuals involved, progress will be made.”

Moshi did not elaborate on the specifics of the issues.

Jacobs said that while she has witnessed instances in which immigrants have lied in their asylum applications and were thus deported, she’s never seen falsified information lead to criminal charges.

Eva and Thamer Sadek Eshoa, an Iraqi couple being criminally charged, attempted to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro on May 5 under aliases, according to court documents.

The couple has had German citizenship since at least 2012 but omitted that information from immigration applications, according to criminal complaints filed with the U.S. District Court in August.

Eva Sadek Eshoa will plead guilty to the charges against her, said her attorney, Daniel Casillas. “She’s agreed not to fight it at this point in time,” he said Tuesday.

Once convicted, Eshoa would serve 60 days in criminal custody and would then be turned over to ICE officials to begin the deportation process, he said.

Her husband will likely enter a similar plea, according to Casillas. They’ll be deported to Holland or Germany, according to criminal complaints.

Attorneys for Thamer Sadek Eshoa and Devid Benjamen Nooh Yako did not respond to requests for comment. Doug Nelson, an immigration attorney for Reta Marrogi and Valentina Adil Slewa Zori, has declined requests for comment, citing privacy issues. • (619) 293-1380