The Chaldean Deportation Protest – June 2017
Bill Kubota, One Detroit/Detroit Journalism Cooperative
Lafayette Boulevard in front of the Federal Courthouse in downtown Detroit was closed to traffic and packed with hundreds of protesters June 21st, calling for the end of deportations after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement rounded up more than 100 Chaldeans with criminal records two weekends ago.
Many in attendance have loved ones who are now in ICE’s custody.
Chaldeans are Iraqi Christians, and according the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce, Southeastern Michigan has more Chaldeans than anywhere outside of Iraq.
Wisam Naoum, a leader of the protest and an attorney with Code Legal Aid, which has been working with some of the detainees, said ICE’s actions this month are “a double whammy,” where they’ve already paid their debt to society, and now they’re paying for it again.
Many of the detained had run-ins with the law decades ago, according to Naoum, and
some were common infractions like marijuana possession or driving while intoxicated.
“To us it just looks like low-hanging fruit so you can appeal to your base,” said Naoum, referring to the Trump administration’s efforts to deport more people.
Naoum said there are around 150 Chaldeans who have been detained.
114 were picked up two Sundays ago, but ICE has collected more since then.
Among those attending the protest, the fear is their loved ones are being sent back to a country where they could be persecuted for being Christians.
Last fall, Father Anthony Kathawa of the St. Thomas Chaldean Catholic Church in West Bloomfield met with Donald Trump before he was elected and blessed him.
He said a lot of the Chaldean community threw its support to Trump last fall but now he feels betrayed.
“He’s the one who actually declared that Christians had no future in the Middle East,” Father Kathawa said, “Vice President Pence said that it’s a genocide for Christians in Iraq. How did everything flip and why is everything happening to us? It’s a question we just can’t get answers to.”
The ACLU along with Code Legal Aid filed suit, seeking more time for the detainees to be able to fight their deportations legally.
A U.S. District Court judge heard the suit the afternoon of the protest, deciding the detainees would remain in the country until June 27th.
A day later the judge ordered a 14-day stay, where, as of now, the detainees, held in detention centers as far away as Ohio and Louisiana, will remain on U.S. soil until the first week of July when, according to Code Legal Aid the judge said he will make another decision.