Detroit Police Capt. Darrell Patterson stands between deportation protesters and traffic in downtown Detroit. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press/Allie Gross

Chaldeans in US: Why aren't more Christians speaking out against deportations to Iraq?

(RNS)  Some Chaldeans and their supporters are wondering why more Christian Americans — their co-religionists — are not speaking out against the impending deportation of hundreds of them from the U.S. to Iraq, which many liken to a “death sentence.”

About 200 Chaldeans — members of a group of Christians indigenous to Iraq — were rounded up by ICE agents in past weeks, including 114 in the Detroit area last weekend.

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Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, based in Sterling Heights, Mich., said he's frustrated by evangelicals and others who have expressed outrage over the persecution of Christians in the Middle East but who have been silent about the Chaldeans who face deportation.

"They could be doing a lot more," he said. "They could be saying, 'Wait, we have been fighting to protect these people in their ancestral lands and now we are sending them back to those areas that we’re not doing enough to protect?'"

Shanta Driver, lead attorney with the group By Any Means Necessary, or BAMN, talks about stopping the deportations. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press/Allie Gross

Philippe Nassif, executive director of In Defense of Christians — a Washington-based group that seeks to protect persecuted Christians in the Middle East — pointed to evangelicals such as Franklin Graham, president of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, who held a summit in Washington last month to rally support for Middle Eastern Christians he called victims of genocide.

"They came to D.C., a whole bunch of them," said Nassif. "They brought up the issue that needed to be brought up, but we’re not seeing the follow-up. If they can't stand up for the people who already made it here, then how can they stand up for the ones in the Middle East?"

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Graham this week had not spoken out about the Chaldeans in custody until Thursday (June 15), when he issued a statement after an inquiry from RNS.

"I find it very disturbing what I have read about Chaldean Christians being rounded up by ICE for possible deportation. I would encourage the president to have someone investigate these cases thoroughly," Graham said in a statement.

Doaa Aldilaimi and her 6-year-old son, Mohammed, protest the recent ICE arrests in the Detroit area. Photo courtesy of Detroit Free Press/Allie Gross

"I understand a policy of deporting people who are here illegally and have broken the law," Graham's statement continued. "I don’t know all of the details, but I would encourage our president to give great consideration to the threat to lives of Christians in countries like Iraq."

Nassif said he was glad Graham felt moved to speak out.

But Nassif said there should have been more of an outcry when news broke of the Chaldeans' plight.

Although the Knights of Columbus, the Catholic fraternal organization and a longtime ally of the Chaldeans, is circulating a letter on their behalf, "we aren't seeing a lot of these other larger voices in the community standing up for the Iraqi Christians," Nassif said.

"If all these people really care about these communities in the Middle East, they should also be caring about the communities that are living here in the United States that are being sent back," he said.

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Another group that has taken a stand on behalf of the Chaldeans: the American Civil Liberties Union. It filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court in Detroit on Thursday to halt the deportations.

Some of the Chaldeans detained by ICE have committed crimes, but their families say those offenses were often nonviolent and happened decades ago. The convicted have served their time and have become productive members of society on whom their families depend, they say.

A Department of Homeland Security representative defended the government's actions.

“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,” DHS spokeswoman Gillian Christensen said in a statement.

“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.”

Advocacy groups and the U.S. government have for years documented the danger to Christians living in Iraq, whose numbers have plummeted to less than 200,000 from a high of 1.2 million before the Iraq War. Many died during the conflict and hundreds of thousands fled to safer lands. Today Iraqi Christians sit in the crosshairs of the group known as the Islamic State, which is losing territory but still active in Iraq.

More than a year ago Congress and the State Department, under then-Secretary of State John Kerry, recognized the slaughter of Christians in the Middle East as a genocide.

"This is not complicated," said Thomas Farr, director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs. "Iraqi Christians have formally been designated by the United States as victims of 'genocide.' They and other named minorities of that declaration should be welcomed to this country. Those who have made it here already should not be deported."

Protesters in front of the McNamara Federal Building in Detroit chant “Stop deportations, bring our families home” on June 14, 2017. Photo courtesy of the Detroit Free Press/Allie Gross

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Chaldeans are Eastern Rite Catholics, who affiliate with the Roman Catholic Church but have their own bishops and patriarch. They believe their ancestors were converted to Christianity by Thomas the Apostle.

The largest groups of Chaldeans reside in Iraq and Syria. In the U.S., population estimates range in the hundreds of thousands, with more than 100,ooo living in Greater Detroit, where many began to immigrate in the 1920s.

"On a practical level, this is mind-boggling," said Nina Shea, an international human-rights lawyer who runs the Center for Religious Freedom at the Washington-based Hudson Institute. She can't think of a safe destination for the Chaldeans in Iraq.

"The director of Homeland Security — does he know that there has been a genocide declared there by the United States? Had anyone told him? Does ICE know this?" Shea said.

"In a situation of genocide you don’t deport anybody. We didn’t even deport Gitmo detainees to places where they would be killed."


  1. Conservative Christians can go jump in a lake if they feel the need to protest this inequity.

    Their support of attacks on the granting of refugee status, of warrantless and counterproductive harassment of immigrant communities created this problem.

    Under saner conditions we wouldn’t have ICE wasting it’s time going after inoffensive immigration law violators instead of dangerous criminals. By all accounts such people would be safe from deportation as refugees. But we have a president with a thing for attacking brown skinned people and no regard for both rule of law or basic decency.

  2. Why aren’t Christians speaking up, especially evangelicals, whom I am reliably informed are practically the most persecuted people on earth?

    Because the Chaldeans are somewhat brownish?

    Because they are not the right sort of Christian?

    Because they are foreigners, and sound somewhat idolatrous?

    Because they are apparently illegal, and thus merit whatever happens to them?

    Because they are HERE, and thus not comfortably far enough away to be persecuted?

    Because our local religion never really got the irony of “no room at the inn.”

    Oh, damme. There I go again, Christian bashing by questioning christian principles.

  3. Well this is the first I have heard of any of this and perhaps this is the answer to why that they seek. There is little people individually can do, but I would suggest getting in contact with other Christian faiths to see what services they provide to protect groups like this from being sent back into a hostile environment. The Catholic Church provide many services including legal services for people.

  4. This is actually an illegal action by ICE to deliberately ignore refugee status. This is a lawsuit in the works.

  5. Have any of the people picked up, been convicted of a felony?

  6. The Homeland spokesperson quoted above said that they all had serious criminal convictions. Most of the crimes she named would constitute felonies.

  7. Why are not more of us Christians speaking out against the deportations? Because relatively few of us are (a) ignorant or (b) willing to treat the appellation “Christian” as an immunity. I do not know how to deal with those who side with anyone called Christian, but I can minister to those who are ignorant. The arrested “Christians” are all illegal aliens who have been convicted of very serious crimes, including murder, drug trafficking, and rape. Their deportation orders were issued by judges after individual hearings. The long delays in executing those orders were caused by extended negotiations with the government of Iraq, and a big problem in those negotiations was getting assurance that deportees would be safe in their home country. Now those negotiations are over, to the satisfaction of both sides. Not a single deportee will be sent to a place where ISIS is active.

  8. Our persecution committee has determined that being told to jump into a, as in one, lake, would constitute mixed sex swimming. Therefore we consider this suggestion a threat of religious persecution, thus we protest, that, inequity. We will be speaking out forcefully, on behave of all persecuted Christians, without regard to the country they should return to.

    Our protest committee

    Or in other words, maybe we will figure it out someday.

  9. Our irony committee has determined the irony of no room at the inn to be a redundant irony and at this time we choose to ignore your comment.

    Thank you for your understanding regarding this matter.

    Our irony committee

  10. If, as you state, in support of the position of the DHS, that these particular individuals are guilty of the specific crimes listed, then the extension of sanctuary does seem misplaced. You’re correct that the tag “Christian” should immunize no one guilty of a heinous act. As long as each case has been handled thoroughly, properly, and meets the requirements of U.S. Immigration Law, I have no objection to the return of these individuals to their original home. As difficult for them as that is.

  11. None of the reasons suggested applies to me, except to the extent that as much as I hate putting anyone at risk of their lives, I have no reason to doubt the rulings of the immigration judges, who (presumably) used a thorough and fair administrative judicial process to determine that these particular individuals failed to meet proper protocols for their permanent admission because of past criminal acts. Our choices have consequences and often come back to bite us…it has certainly happened to me. Not trying to cross swords with you, but as an evangelical I sometimes have an irresistible impulse to defend same. Maybe it’s a knee jerk reaction I should re-assess, but few of us have access to all the facts, and none of us is wholly objective. That is why I hate stories like these…because I don’t KNOW the facts in each individual case and must depend on reporting I can’t verify.

  12. I doubt that any of the reasons would apply to you. I was of two minds reading the story. If they are talking only about law breaking, felony committing (apart from illegalityof being here) illegals, my milk of human kindness loses a lot of its butter fat. If they are not otherwise felonious, then I have to wonder.

  13. The fact that you put “Christians” in quotes when talking about Chaldeans shows that you are indeed ignorant even though you claim not to be. So I will educate you. Chaldeans are Catholics from (mostly) Iraq, who have long looked to escape religious persecution in the Middle East, some coming here without proper documentation in that effort. Both the Trump and Obama administration have declared them targets of genocide due to their religious beliefs.

    Perhaps you believe they aren’t “Christians” because they have broken the law, which is so ridiculous because there are none of us without sin. And if you think they have gotten “immunity” because they are Christians, you are wrong about that too. They served their time. Some of these people did things like smoke marijuana or got in a fight defending a family member (which is common in the Chaldean community, they put a great emphasis on family, and it isn’t uncommon for them to be targeted for violence in the Detroit area), are you saying people who did these crimes deserve to die? Please, judge not.

    The DHS spokesperson said that they had committed crimes including those you listed, not that every single one of them was a murderer or rapist. Even if they did, would you send a Jew back to Germany in the 1940s if he had raped someone?

    As to not being sent to where ISIS is active, you have no proof of that. A few are slated to be sent back to Mosul. Mosul. Not to mention, areas where ISIS is active is always shifting. Additionally, they weren’t deported before because returning them to Iraq was considered to be too dangerous (even in the 1990s, when terrorism wasn’t as rampant), and the situation has only gotten worse.

    Finally, I will direct you to re-read Luke 10:25-37 and ask yourself if you are the priest, the Levite, or the Samaritan? Will you have mercy on a stranger in need despite knowing nothing of his past? Will you be a Christian, or just a “Christian?”

  14. One’s faith does not excuse one from responsibility for behavior in the civic arena. So just as Chaldean immigrant who are Christian should not get a pass because they are Christian, so too immigrants from radicalized tribal areas that generate terrorism and militancy should not get a pass because they are Muslim (which the courts seem to be saying today). So if the courts want to rule the immigrantion ban is a “Muslim ban” then it would only be equitable to say these immigrants faith (in this case Christianity) is a “trump”(gotta love langauge) card and they be allowed to stay.

    Goose and gander. All good. One rule of law for all equally applied to all.

  15. “no regard for both rule of law…” — yep, illegal immigrants. I support the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws. As the ICE acting director observed, if you entered this country illegally you have broken the law and are subject to deportation.

    Immigrate all you want. Do it legally.

  16. If they are rightfully refugees, they aren’t illegal aliens.

    You don’t know the nation’s immigration laws you support enforcement of. Like most people spouting off with your POV.

    In fact refugee status is typically considered one of the best way to avoid deportation. Its difficult to obtain in most circumstances, but given the situation in Iraq, there should be little difficulty for the Chaldean Christians involved. In fact entry or overstay into this country is not even the main issue with the people involved here.

    Next time you want to talk about legal immigration, educate yourself first.

  17. But refugees, regardless of their religion are not subject to deportation. People who are here out of fear of genocide meet the basic standard of refugees we have. That has nothing to do with the religion per se, but the situation in the country they are from.

    Whatever nonsense you are spouting has nothing to do with the facts. You should avoid talking about laws you are ignorant of.

  18. They aren’t illegal aliens if they can claim refugee status.

    In essence Trump and the Iraqi government cut a deal (based on the illegal travel ban) to pretend these people can be reclassified as a type other than refugees. Despite the clear and well justified fear of imminent harm if deported.

    ” Not a single deportee will be sent to a place where ISIS is active.”

    Bull effing sh1t!

  19. A perfectly reasonable point of view.

  20. The first instance was in this phrase: “the appellation ‘Christian’ as an immunity.” That phrase demanded quotation marks as a matter of grammar. Therefore, obviously, I did not use sneer-quotes, as you seem to have assumed, and I do not doubt that the deportees may be members of an ethnic group described as Christian.
    The second instance was in this sentence: “The arrested “Christians” are all illegal aliens who have been convicted of very serious crimes, including murder, drug trafficking, and rape.” There I did use sneer-quotes — yes, even though I am aware that we are all sinners, every one of us. Chaldeans in Iraq acquire their religious identification simply as a matter of ethnicity or parental identification (as all others in Iraq acquire their respective religious IDs). I give no credit to this kind of identification and my Christian friends, liberal and conservative, agree with me. For us, the appellation “Christian” properly belongs to those who follow Jesus in faith.
    ISIS has murdered hundreds because of their various religious beliefs or nonbeliefs — because their various beliefs or nonbeliefs do not agree with the beliefs of ISIS’s adherents. ISIS has not specially targeted Chaldeans for genocide.
    (a) I did not say that every deportee is a murderer or rapist. (b) The USA is safer than Iraq, but it has been determined upon thorough investigation by experts that Iraq is not a dangerous place for the Chaldeans; and Christian mercy does not entail providing every stranger with a safer place to live. (c) There is no clear relation of political or moral principle between my government’s deporting criminal illegal aliens and a hypothetical case in which I willfully refuse to help a wounded person who needs me.

  21. It’s not relevant if these people are rightfully refugees. Which given the facts here, they should be classified.

    For example, when Miami became the murder capital of the US in the mid 80’s we did not even consider deporting the scads of Cuban Mariel Boat lift refugees committing heinous crimes during that period. Not did we deport Russian gangsters coming in with the “Refusnik” wave.

    Refugees cannot be deported.

  22. Are you saying that on your own, or have others told you?

  23. I am saying they in relation to the laws on the books. The laws which are being ignored for political convenience.

    Refugee/asylum status is based on whether there is a reasonable fear of imminent harm if the person is sent back to their home country. Given that Chaldeans were subject to persecution and genocide in Iraq even as far back as Saddam Hussein and now by ISIS, Shia and Sunni militias, it is an easy definition to meet.

  24. “I have no reason to doubt the rulings of the immigration judges, who (presumably) used a thorough and fair administrative judicial process to determine that these particular individuals failed to meet proper protocols for their permanent admission because of past criminal acts.”

    I do. There is a lack of due process for people brought before then. There is no right to counsel. There is no reasonable sense of intent to commit violations either, nor a sense proportionality in penalties.

    One such judge even claimed 3 year olds can learn enough immigration law to represent themselves.

  25. Well, you seem to then assume these people are not followers of Jesus in faith then? How much do you know about these people to determine if they follow Jesus in faith? How do you judge these people without having met them? Did you take into account that many of these people were rounded up while they were attending Mass, that their Bishops say most of these people were model citizens now after making mistakes years, sometimes decades ago? And claiming that because ISIS hasn’t only targeted Chaldeans, it isn’t genocide would be like saying Jews weren’t the victims of genocide because Hitler targeted gypsies and homosexuals as well.
    To respond to your A, B, and C.
    A. You implied all these people are convicted of serious crimes and deserve to be deported, when the fact is only a small percentage, again according to the local Bishops, were any danger at all.
    B. This is just not factually true, and I’d like to see your sources. Here are mine.
    In February 2016, the EU, in a unanimous vote, recognized that all Christians (Chaldeans make up the largest percentage of Christians in Iraq) were the target of genocide by ISIS ( ).
    The United States followed suit in March, and again the vote in the House of Representatives was unanimous ( ).
    And again in April, British Parliament, unanimously voted the same ( ).
    Mike Pence, in May of 2017, stated “In Iraq, at the hands of extremists, we’ve actually seen monasteries demolished, priests and monks beheaded, and the two-millennia-old Christian tradition in Mosul virtually extinguished overnight. In Syria, we see ancient communities burned to the ground. We see believers tortured for confessing Christ, and women and children sold into the most terrible form of human slavery.” ( ).
    To your point that it isn’t our duty to take care of strangers by offering them a safer place to live, read James 1:27, Prov. 19:17, 1 John 3:17, Prov. 14:31, Prov. 21:13, Prov. 28:27, James 2:14-20, and Matthew 25:31-46, to name a small few.
    C. In a representative democracy, like the United States, everything the government does, they do in our name. If the government does immoral actions, which they are doing in this case, and the people refuse to speak out, then the people are complicit with the governments actions. The allegory here of the Good Samaritans is wholly appropriate. The Chaldeans are the wounded traveler, someone we know nothing about but stand a good chance of dying without help. You are the priest, a man who claims to teach the word of Jesus to others, who thinks he knows God’s will, yet when he sees injustice, he fails to act. Your lack of action could be due to either you don’t see them as being worthy of help, or you failed (as evidenced in section B) to recognize the danger they are truly in. I am the Samaritan (in a way, aptly fitting for me, but that is neither here nor there), the one who recognizes the danger the traveler is in and tries to act to save him.
    If I have convinced you with evidence that this is indeed an injustice that the government is carrying out in our name, call your state’s senators and your representative and ask them to put a stop to this. If I have not, then I believe you have a blind faith in Donald Trump to the point of idolatry.

  26. Of course, I do not know whether any of those deportees is following Jesus in faith. That does not impugn my argument. Most Americans are especially affected by rallying cries in behalf of victimized Christians, but they should be much more skeptical about cries in behalf of Iraqi Christians. Here, one is self-identified as a Christian by a profession of faith. Yes, the profession may be a lie, but it can be and should be trusted without clear evidence that it is false. In Iraq, one is identified as a Christian by a bureaucrat’s entry on his birth record and his government-issued ID card. That identification is worthless. The bureaucrat found it on the ID cards of the new-born’s parents, whose identifications as Christians were acquired in a similar way. Anyone who counts it in favor of a criminal illegal alien from Iraq that he is identified as a Christian is falling for a sucker’s game. (There may be reasons to favor a criminal illegal alien from Iraq, but his religious identification is not one of them.)
    Even if a Chaldean bishop in Michigan has indeed said that all those deportees are harmless, I have no reason to trust his opinion. But whether or not they are all harmless is irrelevant to the question whether they should be deported. I trust my government’s judgment about that. I think the qualifications for entry and permanent residence in the USA are reasonable, and impartial judges after full and fair hearings have determined that none of those deportees meet the qualifications. I think the USA should receive all qualified Chaldeans as permanent residents.
    Not one of those declarations or resolutions about genocide imply that the deportees will be subject to any special danger in Iraq. Chaldeans have lived in Iraq for many centuries. Yes, Iraq has changed in the last 25 years, and maybe it has become a more difficult place for Chaldeans. But the deportees are in no greater danger than Shia Muslims or moderate Sunnis or any other Iraqis who reject ISIS’s ideology. If the deportees are very good people, after all, we may expect them to make Iraq a safer (and in other ways better) place for all ethnic groups. You assume they are very good people. Well, be a Good Samaritan neighbor to wounded Iraq. Be consoled that Iraq will be blessed by the deportees’ return.
    I have made it clear: I am not convinced by evidence offered me thus far that these deportations are an injustice that the US government is carrying out in our name.
    Does that mean I am politically amoral? No, for, on the other hand, I have been convinced by evidence that many injustices have been carried out by my government, and I have resisted or meliorated to the best of my ability every one of them.

  27. The fact that Chaldeans are Christians is important, no matter whether they are identified by faith or by a government card. Either way, they are still targeted by genocide. You have given absolutely no evidence these Christians are as safe as Sunni or Shia Muslims under ISIS, and no national or international law or proclamation has declared Muslims to be the victims of genocide under ISIS (although I would agree that Shia Muslims in particular would be at grave risk in ISIS controlled areas). The reason you can’t give me this evidence is it simply does not exist. There is no written agreement detailing how the deportation of Iraqi Christians would be handled, despite numerous congressmen asking for the details of the arrangement to ensure the safety of those deported.
    To assume a hundred more persecuted Christians with no real remaining connection to their former homeland would somehow make the situation better there is frankly laughable. The Chaldean community in Iraq has been devastated, with only an estimated 200,000 remaining.
    I do not assume each of those detained are good people, I assume that they are actually people though. I am not in favor of deporting anyone, no matter their crimes, to a spot where they face genocide due to their beliefs. The European Union, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. State department, the vice president of the United States, and the British Parliament have all declared them to be the victims of genocide. Unless you have better intelligence than all of these groups, perhaps you should listen to them.

  28. “I am not in favor of deporting anyone, no matter their crimes, to a spot where they face genocide due to their beliefs. The European Union, the United States House of Representatives, the U.S. State department, the vice president of the United States, and the British Parliament have all declared them to be the victims of genocide. Unless you have better intelligence than all of these groups, perhaps you should listen to them.”
    Neither am I in favor of deporting anyone to genocide. But these deportees are not facing genocide. Those who declared the Chaldean Christians victims of genocide all made reference to the treatment of Chaldean Christians taken by ISIS. No element of Iraqi society other than ISIS has genocidal intentions toward the Chaldean Christians, much less the ability to wage genocide against them.
    The alarmists are spooking you, or else you are one of the alarmists trying to spook me.

  29. These chaldean communities by and large voted for their own deportation last November. There is nothing i would do if they made the choice themselves.

    In a situation of genocide you don’t deport anybody. We didn’t even deport Gitmo detainees to places where they would be killed

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