Some Chaldean leaders encouraged by Trump’s remarks on Iraqi deportations

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Niraj Warikoo Detroit Free Press
Jeremiah Suleiman, of Sterling Heights holds a sign among dozens during a rally to stop the deportation of Iraqi-American immigrants outside Patrick V. McNamara Federal building on Friday, June 16, 2017 in Detroit. An ACLU lawsuit seeks to block the possible deportation of 1,400 Iraqi nationals around the country.
Elaine Cromie , Detroit Free Press
Some Chaldean advocates are encouraged by President Donald Trump’s remarks in Warren that appeared to say he would work to help allow Iraqi immigrants who face deportation to stay in the U.S. 

But the Chaldean leaders add that they are looking for specific action after years of seeing people in their community get detained and deported by immigration authorities.

Hundreds of Iraqi nationals, most with criminal records, have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) since 2017 after Trump took office, with some of them already deported. Many of them are Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Catholics, a minority in Iraq with sizable numbers in Michigan. 

President Donald J. Trump speaks to a crowd during a visit to Dana Incorporated in Warren, Michigan on Thursday, January 30, 2020. Trump visited the state after signing a revised U.S. Mexico Canada Trade Agreement.
Ryan Garza, Detroit Free Press
“I’m excited they will finally be bringing some closure for those who are in so much pain and anxiety because of their loves ones being at risk for deportation,” Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation and Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, told the Free Press.

Manna said he met with Trump in Washington D.C. in October and spoke with him for a few minutes about trying to block the deportations. 

“I’m frustrated he hasn’t acted on it yet,” Manna said. “It’s something we’ve been requesting from the administration for quite some time. It’s just a matter of time before getting it implemented.”

While some are pleased with Trump’s comments, others said they are skeptical of Trump’s remarks, saying it may be more about election year politics to sway a voting block.

Chaldean leaders had endorsed Trump in 2016 and some say they helped him win in Macomb County and Michigan, where they are a sizable community. 

Manna said the Chaldean community is looking for authorities to grant what’s called a deferred enforced departure or a temporary protective status that could prevent Iraqis from being deported back to Iraq. Since many of them are minorities, they could face persecution in Iraq, an unstable country where Christians and others are often at risk, say Chaldean advocates. 

It’s unclear how ICE will react to Trump’s comments and whether it will halt deportations. A spokesman for the Detroit office of ICE referred questions to the White House.

More: Iraqi-American Christians disappointed with Trump

More: ‘Miserable and afraid,’ Jimmy of Michigan suffered in Iraq before his death after deportation

Speaking in Warren on Thursday at a manufacturing plant, Trump said he told some Michigan congressmen on Air Force One: “You have a wonderful Iraqi Christian community in Michigan.”

“And the congressmen were telling me on the plane, how rough it’s been for them. It’s been a very tough time for a lot of Christians all over the world. … We’re going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country. And so we’re going to be extending them. A lot of people in Michigan have been asking for that.”

“We’re going to … do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm’s way,” Trump said.

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights and the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce. 2016 photo.
Chaldean Community Foundation
“We talked about it long and hard on the flight,” he said. “And we’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm’s way.”

Trump did not say what specifically he would do to help, but said: “We’ll work with that when we get back to your great congressmen.”

Manna said that U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Mich., who has been advocating to stop the deportations of Iraqis, spoke to Trump on the plane about the Iraqi nationals facing deportation.

Moolenaar could not be immediately reached for comment. 

Other Chaldean leaders were also pleased to hear Trump’s remarks. 

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Joseph Kassab, president and founder of Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute, based in West Bloomfield. 

Kassab said he was in Washington D.C., last week lobbying for Iraqi minorities. Kassab and others have been asking for protection for Christians in Iraq. Sending Iraqi Christians back to Iraq now would expose them to “conditions of persecution and intimidation,” Kassab said. 

President Donald Trump with Joseph Kassab, founder and president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield, on Sept. 30, 2016, in Novi, Michigan. Kassab was one of about 15 Middle Eastern leaders who met with Trump before a rally, said community leaders.
Joseph Kassab
Some Chaldean advocates, such as Nathan Kalasho, director of Keys Grace charter school in Madison Heights, were skeptical of Trump’s remarks, saying that the Trump administration created the problem in the first place.

“It is beyond the pale for Trump, who unilaterally created this crisis for our community behind closed doors, now claims to save them with an announcement during a campaign stump speech,” Kalasho said. “I understand politicians pandering to voters, but it’s been 2½ years, millions spent, families ruined and a deported man who wasn’t even born in Iraq now dead.”

Kalasho was referring to Jimmy Al-Daoud, a Chaldean man from metro Detroit with mental health challenges who died in Iraq last year after being deported. 

More: Area Middle Eastern leaders got face-time with Trump in Novi

More: Iraqis face deportation after Appeals Court rules against them

Many of the Iraqis had to hire attorneys to fight for their cases. Some have been granted relief, but others are still in custody and face removal. An appeals court ruled against them last year. 

“Nevertheless,” Kalasho said, “I truly hope relief does come, and it’ll prove how he had the authority to stop these detentions and deportations immediately. The families don’t deserve to be political pawns for another election year.”

Kalasho added that it’s “very important that this relief is a general deferral on all those at risk for deportation, and not just a select group or few.”

In a statement, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Mich., whose district has a sizable Iraqi immigrant population and who has been working to prevent the deportations, said: “The president’s words inspire me with cautious optimism, but let me be extremely clear—relief must be extended to all Iraqi nationals who would face danger if they are deported against their will.”

But, Levin added: “It should be noted that Iraqi nationals face these precarious circumstances only because President Trump broke with past administrations and started aggressively deporting Iraqis.” 

Last year, Levin introduced a House bill, along with Moolenaar, to bring relief to the Iraqis facing deportation.

Levin said: “Iraqi nationals in the United States who face deportation to Iraq are in extreme danger. Whether it is due to their Chaldean Christian faith, other affiliation with a religious minority or simply their association with the U.S., deporting them to Iraq is tantamount to a death sentence.

“Tragically, we learned this lesson the hard way when Jimmy Aldaoud, a constituent of mine, was deported to Iraq last year and died without access to proper medical care.”