DETROIT (WWJ/AP) – After a massive immigration sweep across metro Detroit, many Iraqi Christians fear what is waiting for them if they are deported.

After about 40 people were taken into custody, mostly on Sunday, by U.S. immigration officials (ICE), reported the arrests prompted a protest by roughly 100 people Monday at a detention center in Detroit, some expressing concern for the arrestees’ safety.

READ MORE: Farmington Hills Police Department Hosts Drug Take-Back Day On April 24

Hundreds more protesters gathered in Sterling Heights near 15 Mile and Ryan Rd., including Marvin Yousef.

“They’re targets,” Youself said. “If they go back to Iraq, they’re going to kill them.”

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 and violence.

“Cal,” an Iraqi Christian who came to the U.S. in 1978, served eight years in prison for armed robbery. He was released and tells Langton he has had no legal problems since 1999.

Being sent home, he said, would almost surely be a death sentence.

“If I’m sent there…I’m a Christian; automatic death. I have tattoos that indicate that I am a Christian, a cross on one, Mother Mary on the other. They’re corralling us here, and they’re sending us to death,” he said.

“Being picked up, leaving my family behind and being send back to Iraq…anywhere in Iraq, I will be killed. I will be killed.”

READ MORE: Detroit Man Charged In Non-Fatal Shooting Of 7-Year-Old Girl

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. ICE says all of 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.


“Each of these individuals received full and fair immigration proceedings, after which a federal immigration judge found them ineligible for any form of relief under U.S. law and ordered them removed,” the agency said.

However, Nathan Kalasho — who runs Keys Grace Academy, which educates may Iraqi Christian students in metro Detroit — called some of the convictions “petty.”

“Some of them were nonviolent, and some of these were 30 or 40 years ago,” he told WWJ’s Charlie Langton. “These people have paid their debt back to society; they contribute to the workforce, countless hours.”

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights says its “inhumane” to send Christians back to a country in which they’re going to be persecuted.

Those arrested over the weekend were in Youngstown, Ohio, Monday, awaiting an order for deportation. No names have been released.

MORE NEWS: Detroit Fire Department Passes Out Free Smoke Detectors Following Fatal Fire

© Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.