Decades old mistakes may lead to an incredibly harsh death sentence, as more than 100 Detroit area Chaldeans prepare for possible deportation. Old crimes they committed, often in the youth, are being used to send these residents back to Iraq.
While many may be quick to point out this is a nation of laws, such responses are weighed against the U.S.’s March 15, 2016 declaration that the acts of ISIS against Chaldean, who are Christians, was officially considered genocide. Thousands of them were killed, many by the most common method – beheading.
The declaration was made in response to the atrocities that have been and still are committed. Thousand have died of exposure. Beheadings and torture have become common place, and towns that have been populated by Christians for centuries are now devoid of them. In an attempt to escape the violence, 40,000 have become trapped in the Shingal Mountains Thousands more have been killed by ISIS.
It is a fate that could very well await those deported.
“As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal,” ICE said in a statement.
“As part of ICE’s efforts to process the backlog of these individuals, the agency recently arrested a number of Iraqi nationals, all of whom had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses. Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed,” the statement says.
For many, the laws that created this uncertain future for Chaldean Christians living in metro Detroit came down to committing a crime before achieving full citizenship. Most of the Chaldean’s are here legally, and most of the crimes used as justification are drug-related and from the 1980s and 1990s, according to Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Foundation.
Several members of Congress have taken action and sent a letter to John F. Kelly, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, requesting he “immediately send us a copy of the U.S. Government’s agreement with Iraq so we in Congress can review its terms, and request that you inform us what specific measures are provided to ensure these individuals’ safety.
“Until we in Congress can review all aspects of the agreement reached with Iraq, and the referenced safety measures, we urge you to hold off removal of these individuals to Iraq,” says the letter signed Member of Congress Sander Levin, John Conyers Jr., Debbie Dingell, Brenda Lawrence, Dan Kildee and John Moolenaar.
“The vast majority of these individuals came to the U.S. legally long ago but are subject to deportation now because they violated their visa restrictions by committing crimes, or for other reasons. Those that committed crimes have, to the best of our knowledge, served their time, successfully completed parole, and paid any necessary fines. These individuals have put down roots. Many have married, helped raise families, invariably worked hard, opened small businesses, and paid their taxes.
“Most have no relatives in Iraq because they, or the families that brought them to America as children, left the country decades ago. The traditional Chaldean areas in Iraq have been uprooted, destroying much of what would have been left of “home” for the Chaldeans,” the letter says.
One such case is that of Najah Konja, who emigrated to the U.S. in 1977 at age 15. He was later arrested for conspiracy to sell drugs. He served 23 years in prison. In the eight years he has been out, he has become engaged, risen to the second highest position at Wild Bill’s Tobacco. He runs 76 locations (only 24 when he started), and is personally responsible for directly hiring 250 people. While doing all of this, he has kept his record clean of any blemishes, even a parking ticket.
Now, Konja is in custody and waits to see when, or hopefully if, he’ll have to leave his country. The situation made more difficult because he no longer has family in Iraq nor speaks the language.
According to his brother Steve Konja, he is depressed, withdrawn, and terrified. What weighs on him the most is the government still won’t even tell him when he may be forced to leave. However, many may be deported by the end of this week (June 17), according to Manna.
Steve shares his brother’s lack of confidence. He believes the Trump Administration has turned a blind eye to the protests and pleas that have poured in from the Chaldean community.
“The government has to protect its people,” he says.
He isn’t wrong. There are laws in place that prevent deportation to countries with an expectation that the deportee will be killed or tortured.
Konja knew that his past with the law could jeopardize his life in America. He appealed to change to a more secure status when things became more dangerous in Iraq. His file was reopened for review on Friday, June 9, he was taken into custody the following Sunday.
Konja is not alone. Many have risen up in protest, from Immigration advocacy groups to local and national civic leaders from Michigan, and the ACLU. The biggest push has been from the Chaldean Foundation.
However, they have little hope left. Manna even called it a “last ditch effort.”
“How could you, as a government, send them into a genocide being committed against Christians and send them off to their death?” Manna asks.
The foundation and many others continue to fight – writing, calling, protesting, and bringing immigration lawyers to offer assistance.
A protest will be held Friday, June 16 at the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building, 477 Michigan Ave., at 3:00 p.m. Those attending include Congressman Sander Levin, Congresswoman Brenda Lawrence, concerned citizens and members of community organizations, including The Chaldean Community Foundation.
“In the name of humanity, there are rules to protect people like him from being sent there,” says Steve Konja that encompasses the families and communities affected..
Immigration is without a doubt a complicated subject, with valid points on both sides. However, right now a strict adherence to certain codes has become little more than a death sentence for Chaldean Christians facing deportation in Detroit.
Photos by Weam Namou