Iraqi Christians attend a Holy Mother Mary mass at the church of Mart Shmoni in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on May 31, 2017.  / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED        (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)
Iraqi Christians attend a Holy Mother Mary mass at the church of Mart Shmoni in Arbil, the capital of the autonomous Kurdish region of northern Iraq, on May 31, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / SAFIN HAMED (Photo credit should read SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

The Trump administration has decided to deport Iraqi Christians back to their dangerous homeland, and the timing is more than a little suspicious.

The scene in Detroit’s U.S. District Court on June 21 was buzzing with anger and anxiety. Dozens of Iraqi nationals waited to hear whether their detained relatives, and other members of their Detroit community, would be deported back to Iraq. A rally outside the courtroom brought together hundreds of supporters, who came out with signs that read “Trump/Pence hear us, we voted for you” and “Deporting Christians to Iraq is genocide.”

Earlier in June, one of the largest Iraqi Christian populations in the world outside of Iraq was ambushed by raids conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Officials knocked on front doors, disrupting Sunday breakfasts and preparations to attend church, to arrest approximately 114 people in the greater Detroit area. Some of those arrested are Muslim, but the vast majority belong to Christian communities of either Chaldean or Assyrian ancestry. All those arrested were taken to jail and slated to board the next available flight back to their native Iraq — a country from which they once escaped.

According to immigration officials, ICE officers were simply processing a backlog of some 1,444 Iraqi nationals living in the United States who had at some point in their lives committed a crime. The ICE Detroit field office said each detainee already faced a final removal order from an immigration judge. By executing their deportation, ICE was addressing a security threat.

But the 121,000-strong Chaldean community in Detroit was shocked and outraged. Christians have long been a minority group in Iraq, often brutally persecuted for their religious beliefs. They first arrived in Detroit in the early 20th century due to the appeal of auto industry jobs. The population continued to grow as refugees fled Iraq after the first Gulf War and during Saddam Hussein’s rule. Since 2014 and the rise of the Islamic State, Christians have fled in even greater numbers. Former Secretary of State John Kerry said last year that the Islamic State was engaging in genocide against Christians, and in January, President Donald Trump promised to prioritize the resettlement of Christian refugees from the Middle East. Trump’s assurances of the security of their co-religionists caused many members of the Chaldean community in Detroit to vote for him last November.

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SOURCE: LOLITA BRAYMAN 
Foreign Policy

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