Trump should deliver an Easter miracle for Iraqi Christian refugees

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By Tina Ramirez, opinion contributor –
As many Americans celebrate Easter, nearly 300 Iraqi Christian refugees are awaiting deportation back to a country most of them have never known. Nahidh Shaou, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Korea, is one example of why giving them a second chance is the right thing to do.

When Nahidh arrived in the US with his parents and younger siblings, he was only five years old. Having escaped Iraq on the eve of the rise of Saddam Hussein, Nahidh’s family well understood the price of freedom. And at the age of 17, when recruits were scarce, he joined the army to defend the only country he had ever known.

While he was away, his father died and his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. As the only son, he had to care for his mother and seven sisters. When he was 20, he was diagnosed with PTSD and honorably discharged from the military.

But at the time, there was little help for veterans afflicted with PTSD like him and the pressure to care for his family led him to fall into a deep depression. Eventually, he tried to rob a McDonald’s, wounding a police officer. He spent 35 years in prison paying for his mistake.

On the day he was set for release – September 13, 2016 – he was instead sent to a holding prison to await deportation from the country he had defended.

If nothing is done, Nahidh will be deported with the almost 300 others in the coming days and weeks.

Since the US-led war in Iraq, the country’s Christian population has faced one of the worst genocides of the twenty-first century. Nearly half of the country’s remaining Christians live in refugee camps, waiting for a place to call home. The other half wonder when the next genocide will occur. They have lost hope in their country.

President Obama ignored their plight for years and although he recognized the situation as genocide nearly a year ago, he took no measures to change the status quo.

President Trump’s recent escalation of support for the Iraqi military in the fight to defeat ISIS has given them reason to hope. But, without serious systemic changes, the country will never be safe for a vulnerable minority like the Chaldean and Syriac Christians.

And if deported, Nahidh will be returning to a country where the once robust thriving and ancient Christian community has been decimated. Most have fled and those who remain are desperate to escape near certain death or endless persecution.

Few Christians in America today can understand what it means to suffer for our faith. But for Iraqi Christians, persecution is a daily reality – for them, their families, and their fellow countrymen – a reality that Nahidh will surely face if deported.

Ironically, it was not Trump, but Obama’s administration that initiated the deportation of Nahidh and hundreds of other Iraqi Christians. But Trump has an opportunity to make it right.

Last week’s attack on Christians in Egypt as they celebrated Palm Sunday was another reminder of the deadly reality awaiting Christians in the Middle East. They are targeted because of their identity, their faith, and their perceived political allegiance to America.

Easter is a sobering holiday for Christians around the world. For believers, it is a reminder of the suffering and humiliation that Christ faced in his final hours – and the suffering his followers will face in this world. But Easter also reminds believers of renewal, hope, and the second chance offered up in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The holiday is truly about the power of mercy and forgiveness.

Nahidh, like other deportees has no right to remain in America. But that does not mean that deporting him is the right thing to do. True justice requires mercy and understanding.

But the Easter story poses a solution for the immigration debate that ensures both justice and mercy. Through Christ’s death sinners who have done nothing to deserve salvation are made right with God.

There are immigrants who pose a security threat and must be removed. But there are some who deserve a second chance. The current law does not look at where the individuals who committed crimes are today and provide a mechanism for justice and mercy.

When we meet individuals like Nahidh, we are reminded that just because we have a right to deport someone, does not mean that it is the right thing to do. Sometimes, to be consistent with our values, there must be a place for second chances.

Our veterans have served the country and defended our values. They have paid the ultimate price for our freedom, and now they deserve at least that much.

President Trump should pardon Nahidh and the other convicted refugees who face terrible fates in their countries of origin. Giving them a second chance at life, liberty, and their pursuit of happiness would be a much needed miracle this Easter season.

Tina Ramirez (@TinaMarieDC) is the president of Hardwired Global and travels to Iraq regularly. She is the author of a forthcoming book from Voice of the Martyrs on the history of Iraqi Christians. Previously, she served as founding staff director of the Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus.