DETROIT (WWJ) – Dozens, including some members of Congress, gathered outside of the federal building in Detroit to protest the deportation of Christian Iraqi immigrants.
Many of those in the loud crowd Friday were family members of those gathered up by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials across metro Detroit last week. Those detainees, who ICE says all had criminal records, remain in a state of limbo down in Ohio as they wait to be expelled from the country.
However, with the ACLU involved and a hearing set for next week, family members tell WWJ’s Jon Hewett they’ve been told by the federal government the detainees will remain in the U.S. at least until that court date.
Standing beside a supportive Rep. Sander Levin (D-Royal Oak), Britanny Hamama of West Bloomfield spoke at the rally on behalf of her father, who was arrested by ICE.
“I can’t function without him. Not having him home, not knowing how he’s feeling, not knowing if he’s taking the right medication, it’s been so unnerving,” Hamama said. “And knowing that there are hundreds of other people that have been affected, I’m sorry, I’m with you, I know what you’re feeling. It’s the worst feeling I’ve ever felt.”
“And then looking at my siblings and telling them it’s going to be OK…it’s not. It’s not,” she added. “I don’t understand what the government is doing. I don’t understand how they think that this is the right way to go about keeping this country safe.”
ICE says those arrested had criminal convictions (for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses) and were ordered deported by an immigration judge.
Shoki Konja of Franklin, whose 55-year-old brother Najah is among those detained, said his brother has lived in the U.S. for 35 years. Konja said his brother served time on a drug charge but has been living clean ever since.
“He got involved in a conspiracy when he was very young, came out, completely turned his life around, working very hard,” Konja said. “Now all of a sudden last Sunday they knocked on his door, (he got) picked up.”
He worries what will happen to Najah if he returns to a country where he knows no one.
“We have zero family members in Iraq. Basically they are sentencing to his death,” Konja said. “In my opinion it’s all a political game between the administration and the Iraqi government.”
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials said in a statement that Iraq recently agreed to accept Iraqi nationals subject to removal from the U.S.
According to the ACLU, most of the 114 Iraqis arrested in last weekend’s Detroit-area raids are Chaldean Christians, but there are also some Shiite Muslims and Christian converts.
Chaldeans are among Iraqi Christian denominations emerging in the faith’s early days. Their population in Iraq has dwindled as hundreds of thousands flee war, violence and persecution.
Levin said he hopes a judge will carefully consider each case individually.
“There’s zero evidence that any of these people are a threat to national safety or security,” he told reporters. “And the final orders that they’re using also, in many case, go back a long ways.”
© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.