Members of the Chaldean community rounded up by ICE
By Weam Namou
As early as 5 a.m. on Sunday June 11, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials began raids into homes, and other establishments including the beach, and even a hospital. They arrested more than 100 Iraqi nationals, mostly Christians, in the Metro Detroit area.
Friends and families of those detained followed their loved ones to the ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations Field Offices in Detroit. Clutching to the barred fence, they watched with fear, confusion, and anger as the detainees were escorted out of the building into a total of three buses. Several people jumped in front of the driving buses. One woman, overcome with emotions for her husband, fainted and another had bruises on her arm as a result of police pulling her away, because she refused to let her brother go “just like this.”
“We were able to delay the bus for half-an-hour and could’ve stopped it if there were more people,” said Victor Mendez, member of BAMN (Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration, and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary).
The buses took the detainees to Youngstown, Ohio, and information spread that they would be boarding a plane heading to Iraq that weekend. Some family members were told to bring a small bag of belongings to the detainees, which many viewed as the last step before deportation.
When Mendez heard that ICE had targeted the Iraqi community, he and other BAMN members decided to bring mobility to it. “Today they’re coming after Chaldeans,” he said. “If we don’t fight together as immigrants, even the Europeans, Trump will slowly get everyone.”
While it caught the community by surprise, the action by ICE stemmed from a deal made in March, when Prime Minister Haider Al Abadi agreed to waive travel documents so Iraqis could be deported from the United States to Iraq. In exchange, the U.S. President removed Iraq from the list of countries on the travel ban.
The detained had not entered the United States illegally, but had lost their green card status for having at some point broken the law, and therefore were under an order of deportation. ICE in its statement said that 199 Iraqi nationals arrested nationwide are security risks and the overwhelming majority had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses.
But in interviewing the families of the detainees, activists and attorneys found the opposite to be true. Most of the cases were low-level non-violent crimes that were committed decades ago and involved, for instance, the possession of marijuana at a time when it was considered a felony. Today that’s a misdemeanor. Those involved had paid their debt to society and had since kept a clean record.
Many of them have been in the United States when they were children and do not speak Arabic. Britanny Hamama, 20, a junior at the University of Michigan, shared her father’s story, Usama “Sam” Hamama, 54. He came to the United States legally when he was 4-years-old. Thirty years ago he was found in possession of a gun that was not registered. He served time in prison and had no other arrests or convictions since then. He later got married and had four children.
Sam was picked up around 9:30 a.m., as the family was getting ready to go to Mass. ICE officials said that they simply needed to question him and promised he’d return the next day. But Britanny, like others with similar situations, did not believe this to be true.
Sabrina Pasha said that her son, Tony Hermez, came to the United States in 1979 at age four. He was arrested in front of his two children, age 12 and 5.
“Everybody makes mistakes,” Pasha said and begged that the president view her son’s kids as he would his own. “Our hearts are broken. We didn’t sleep for two days. We’re going crazy.”
Since June 11, there were more raids and arrests of Iraqi nationals. There were also a number of anti-deportation protests that took place at Mother of God Church, in Detroit and Sterling Heights with families, including children, sharing heartbreaking stories; a twelve-year-old talked about the pain of seeing her father handcuffed in front of her and “ripped out of her life”; an elementary student talked about her brother whose wedding was scheduled July 1st (she was going to be one of his bridesmaids). He had not done a crime but had an “error” on his file; a young woman talked about her uncle whose wife, seven-months pregnant, ended up in the hospital due to the stress of the situation.
With many of their loved ones not knowing how to speak Arabic, and some even having the tattoo of the cross on their wrists, they felt that sending them to Iraq was a death sentence.