By Martin Manna
In 2014, Secretary Kerry labeled the atrocities committed against Christians and other minorities in Iraq a genocide. Vice President Pence reaffirmed the designation in 2017 but that has had little impact on the Trump’s Administration’s plans to deport members of our community.
Despite recognizing that Iraq is highly dangerous, particularly for religious and ethnic minorities, on June 11, 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began arresting and detaining a large number of Iraqi nationals – most of whom are Chaldeans – in preparation for deportation.
On July 24, 2017, the District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan issued a preliminary injunction barring the government from executing removal orders against petitioners, citing the U.S. Department of State travel advisory on Iraq. The State Department developed a four-tier travel advisory for foreign travel and placed Iraq in “Level 4: Do not travel.” The Department of State’s Iraq Travel Advisory bluntly states “Do not travel to Iraq due to terrorism and armed conflict.” Citing the “high risk of violence and kidnapping,” the Department of State recognizes that “numerous terrorist and insurgent groups are active in Iraq and regularly attack both Iraqi security forces and civilians.”
In addition, the Department of State travel advisory also advises that “attacks by improvised explosive devices (IEDs) occur frequently in many areas of the country, including Baghdad.”
The Department of State’s Human Rights Report has further documented numerous human rights violations occurring in Iraq, including:
Unlawful killings; torture and other cruel punishments; poor conditions in prison facilities, denial of fair public trials; arbitrary arrest; arbitrary interference with privacy and home; limits on freedoms of speech, assembly, and association due to sectarianism and extremist threats; lack of protection of stateless persons; wide-scale governmental corruption human trafficking; and limited exercise of labor rights.”
These violations have been perpetuated by groups including ISIL, Iraqi government security and law enforcement personnel, and Shiite militias. In sum, Iraq today is unsafe, unstable, and rife with human rights violations.
The safety and security of Iraq’s Christian and other religious minority populations is of extremely grave concern. Recently, the Iraqi Parliament passed laws counter to their religion and the Iraqi Constitution does not permit laws to exist that are counter to Islam, stating that Islam is the supreme law of the land.
While the instability in Iraq threatens many religious and ethnic minorities, Chaldeans are at particular and heightened risk of violence. As religious and ethnic minorities, Chaldeans face extreme persecution in Iraq. Although ethnic and religious minorities have lived together in some regions of Iraq for centuries, this dynamic is currently under siege. Today, areas that are home to these minorities, such as the Nineveh province, are under siege by terrorists.
President Trump should use his authority to halt these deportations. The President has the ability reduce or eliminate the risk of deportation for non-violent felons, most of whom perpetuated a crime decades ago and have already served time. He can use his authority by directing the Department of Homeland Security to provide the following types of relief:
1) Pardons: The underlying federal criminal offenses could be pardoned, which would invalidate factual basis of entire immigration proceedings. This will not, however, confer status, so would also require asylum or other immigration relief. Potential avenue, if available, would be sponsorship by USC family members. If pardons are not an option, consider providing legal status to those that qualify.
2) Grant Motions to Reopen: Many of the Chaldeans who are under threat of removal have pending motions to reopen. ICE could stipulate to these motions which would lift the final orders of removal and would allow the aliens to pursue new claims in immigration court including withholding of removal.
3) Grant Stays of Removal: ICE could grant a stay of removal for impacted members of the community who are under a final order of removal. A stay would not eliminate the final order of removal but would allow the individuals to remain in the US and would allow them to secure work authorization.
4) Grant Deferred Action: DHS (through either ICE or USCIS) could grant members of the community deferred action for a proscribed period of time. Deferred action would delay the imposition of the final order of removal and would also allow the beneficiary to secure work authorization.
Like a stay of removal, deferred action is a form of prosecutorial discretion that has typically been used by DHS for humanitarian reasons.
In September, I’ll be making my fourth appearance to a federal court on behalf of a friend who has lived in the U.S. without incident for more than 25 years. He was picked up by ICE just before Christmas last year. He ended up spending six months in Calhoun County Jail before being released in June. The crime he committed happened over 35 years ago. He’s now in his 60s. After everything he has endured, he is still not free from the risk of deportation to Iraq.
Our federal government needs to intervene quickly and directly with actions described above or by other means to protect individuals from facing uncertain atrocities and harm in Iraq. We must stay vigilant until the laws are changed to protect our people and other innocent people from an unjust fate.