Dozens of Iraqi Christians were detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement over the weekend. Now, they face deportation.
Activists and community members have said as many as 80 Iraqis were detained, including some who have lived in the U.S. the majority of their lives and speak little if any Arabic. While these individuals were residing illegally in the U.S., many were checking in regularly with customs agents as a condition of being allowed to remain in the country, according to Newsweek.
U.S. President Donald Trump's previously said he would work to protect Christians persecuted in the Middle East and North Africa. Throughout Iraq, Christians have been targeted and slaughtered at the hands of terrorist groups like the so-called Islamic State (Daesh).
"He promised he would help us, when in fact he’s exacerbated problems now by sending people back to the hands of the Islamic State,” Steve Oshana, an Assyrian-Christian activist with the group A Demand for Action, said, according to Politico.
Sympathetic politicians and activists have suggested that sending these individuals back to Iraq would be a "death sentence."
Following Trump's first failed travel ban on immigrants and refugees from several Muslim majority countries including Iraq, the U.S. administration released a revised travel ban – which was also blocked – that excluded Iraqis. Activists say this deal included provisions for deporting Iraqis currently residing in the U.S. illegally.
"The people that are being sent back now are being sent back as a direct deal between the United States and the Iraqi government," Oshana said.
Although a spokesperson for the immigration authority said the arrests were part of a routine sweep aimed at deporting individuals who had committed serious crimes, activists say this is not valid. Those protesting the move say that many of the individuals had not committed any crime or had committed relatively minor offenses.
Others have also pointed out that many of the arrests were made on Sunday, with agents even detaining people as they went to church with their friends and families.
Many Arab-American Christians supported Trump during his election because of his promises to protect their communities in the Middle East. Now, activists want the U.S. president to make good on those promises.
"Someone like the president of the United States has to step in, he has promised in the past that he was going to protect our community," Oshana said.