U.S. Immigration officials have arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians in Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, prompting protests from family members and advocates who fear that the detainees would be killed if they are deported to Iraq.
Russia Today reported Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have arrested as many as 80 Chaldean Christian Iraqis for mass deportation in Sterling Heights, West Bloomfield and Dearborn.
ICE's Detroit field office has stated that all of the detainees had criminal convictions such as "homicide, rape, aggravated assault" and others. But there have been reports that ICE has arrested people without criminal records, or those whose crimes primarily involve immigration violations.
Advocates have contended that many of the Chaldeans detained by ICE have already served their sentences for minor crimes years ago and that they could be persecuted if they are deported back to Iraq.
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, asserted that deporting the Chaldeans back to Iraq "is equivalent to a death sentence," noting that Chaldean churches in the region have been bombed.
He further noted that many of the detainees would not be able to speak the native language when they arrive in Iraq.
"Most of those being picked up or at risk of deportation have only really known America," Manna told Think Progress. "They came here as children. They're culturally illiterate [in Iraq]...There's really no homeland for the Chaldean people," he added.
Manna said that Detroit is home to about 150,000 Chaldeans, some of whom supported Donald Trump during the election.
Family members and protesters have gathered outside the building of the field office, and some have attempted to block the buses of Iraqis from entering and leaving the ICE compound.
The arrests came after the U.S. government removed Iraq from a list of countries that are included in Trump's travel ban issued in March.
The executive order stated that Iraq was removed from the list because the Iraqi government made efforts to "to enhance travel documentation, information sharing, and the return of Iraqi nationals subject to final orders of removal."
"As a result of recent negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq, Iraq has recently agreed to accept a number of Iraqi nationals subject to orders of removal," said ICE spokeswoman Gillian Christensen, as reported by Reuters.
U.S. officials noted that there are about 1,400 Iraqi nationals with final orders of removal currently living in America.