Standing in the living room of her brother's home in Sterling Heights,
Lina Denha wipes away tears with a tissue as she recalls how federal
agents arrested him early one Sunday morning this month.
"To just come and grab him in front of his kids and family — that's not right," she said of the June 11 detention of Haydar Butris, 38, one of 114 Iraqi immigrants with criminal records arrested in Michigan.
been here most of his life. He did a mistake. He paid for it. Now, he
is a good father, has kids, a family. He works, pays taxes and
everything. And you just come knock on the door, come out of nowhere and
grab him? That's not right."
Denha's sadness turns to frustration
as she expresses disappointment with President Donald Trump, whom she
and some other Iraqi-American Christians in Michigan had supported.
Denha's sense of betrayal is echoed across metro Detroit among some
Iraqi-American Christians who voted for Trump because they hoped he
would be sympathetic to their community abroad, where they are a
religious minority, and in the U.S.
"We voted for Trump," Denha said. "That's what we get from him? ... Obama is better than him, 100 times."
Trump portrayed himself as a "savior" to Iraqi Christians, said Sterling
Heights attorney Wisam Naoum. While on the campaign trail, Trump said
that he would work to protect Christians in the Middle East and increase
the number of Christian refugees admitted from countries such as Syria
Iraqi Christians say that Trump has failed to keep his promises and is
actually worse than former President Barack Obama, whose administration
in 2010 stopped the deportation of Iraq immigrants with criminal records
after considering complaints from Chaldean leaders.
In contrast this month, U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) is strongly defending its recent roundup
of 199 Iraqi immigrants nationally (114 of them in metro Detroit) with
criminal records. They said the Iraqis arrested were already facing
final orders of removal from a judge and all but two were convicted of
crimes, ranging from homicide and assault to less serious crimes like
marijuana possession in the case of Butris.
ICE suggests more arrests may come as there are hundreds of other Iraqi nationals with final orders of deportation.
"basically sold the community on the idea that he would protect their
community in the homeland, that he would prioritize them, that he would
be this savior of their people," Naoum said. "It hasn't been even a few
months and he's betrayed them."
Many of the Iraqis arrested recently in Michigan are Christian and
worry they would be targeted if deported to Iraq, where they are a
minority facing threats from extremist groups. Sending them to
Iraq would be like a virtual death sentence and violates international
treaties, advocates have said. Many legal actions have been filed,
including one by the ACLU, to try to stop the deportation process.
addition to the arrests, Iraqi-American Christians say the Trump
administration is ignoring the concerns of religious minorities in Iraq
and is strongly supporting Saudi Arabia, which they say is responsible
for groups like ISIS that target Christians.
Chaldeans, who are Iraqi Catholics, have been active in both the Democratic and Republican parties in Michigan.
unclear what percentage of Iraqi-American Christians voted for
President Trump since there are no presidential election
polls specifically targeting that population, experts say.
to 2015 U.S. Census figures, there are 46,441 Michiganders with
Assyrian/Chaldean/Syriac ancestry, three groups that are Iraqi-American
Christian ethnicities. There are also an additional 31,863 people in
Michigan who identify as having Iraqi ancestry, some of whom
are Christian. Chaldean leaders say the Census undercounts their size in
Michigan. Michigan also has a sizable Iraqi-American Muslim population,
concentrated in Dearborn and Detroit.
In Macomb and Oakland
counties, where the Iraqi Christian population is more likely to be
concentrated, many Chaldeans were enthusiastic for Trump, said Joseph
Kassab, founder and president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and
Empowerment Institute in West Bloomfield. Trump defeated Clinton
in Macomb County by 53.6% to 42.1% while Clinton defeated Trump in
Oakland County by 51.3% to 43.2%.
supported him big time," said Kassab, who was part of
the American-MidEast Coalition for Donald Trump. "First of all, we are
conservative and conservatives are Republicans. And he said he will
protect the Christians."
Kassab said given the close election in
Michigan, the votes of Middle Eastern Christians could have made a
difference. Michigan has the highest percentage of Arab-Americans among
states in the U.S., many of whom are Christian.
Kassab said that under the Obama administration, the percentage of
refugees who were Christian from Syria was only about 4% over the past
two years. A report on
the conservative media outlet CSNews.com said that more than 99% of
refugees admitted into the U.S. from Syria from January through
October last year were Muslim, citing statistics from the State
Department Obama officials said they would not admit refugees based on
Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community
Foundation, said: "I think the majority (of Chaldeans) likely supported
the president" in the November election. "They were frustrated with the
previous administration because of their" perceived weak "response to
the persecution of Christians by ISIS. They were looking for someone who
would stand up for the rights of minorities."
Like other Chaldeans, Kassab is upset over the potential deportations of the Iraqis, but he doesn't blame Trump.
"It's not Trump who's having to kick out the Christians," Kassab
said. "It's ICE under orders to deport people who don't have status. I
don't think he singled out Christians. He singled out everybody who
doesn't have the status."
"But because this is a humanitarian
situation, we don't want people to be sent back to Iraq. I will not
trust the Iraqi government to protect the people. The Iraqi government
is not fair, it's corrupted."
statement last week, ICE said the arrests came about after a March
12 agreement with the government of Iraq. As part of the deal, Iraq said
it would accept Iraqi nationals in the U.S. with criminal records who
it had previously said it wouldn't admit.
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 in a statement. "Since the March 12, 2017,
agreement with the government of Iraq regarding removals, eight Iraqi
nationals have been removed to Iraq. ICE focuses its enforcement
resources on individuals who pose a threat to national security, public
safety and border security."
ICE said that no group of immigrants
is immune from enforcement: "As (Department of Homeland Security)
Secretary (John) Kelly has made clear, ICE will not exempt classes or
categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement."
Wednesday, six U.S. House Representatives from Michigan — Sander
Levin, D-Royal Oak; Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn; John Conyers, D-Detroit;
Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield; Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, and John
Moolenaar, R-Midland — wrote a letter to Kelly requesting a copy of the
March agreement between the U.S. and Iraq. The letter said that the
Iraqis facing deportation would be harmed in Iraq, especially those who
"We accordingly request that you immediately send
us a copy of the U.S. government’s agreement with Iraq so we in Congress
can review its terms and request that you inform us as to what specific
measures are provided to ensure these individuals’ safety and all other
relevant information," read part of the letter.
Contacted by the
Free Press, spokesmen for the Department of Homeland Security, which
oversees ICE, and State Department declined comment. The White House did
not respond to questions from the Free Press about the agreement and
concerns expressed by Iraqi-American Christians in Michigan.
leaders have said that some Republican congressmen in Michigan have
been helpful in voicing concerns about the plight of Christians in Iraq.
But on the recent arrests, the Republicans have not been as outspoken
as the Democrats, said Chaldean leaders.
Rep. Dave Trott, R-Birmingham, who has previously issued statements on
the plight of Iraqi Christians, did not sign the letter by the other
U.S. representatives. Also, no Republican U.S. representative appeared
at a rally Friday for the Iraqi detainees outside the federal McNamara
building in Detroit attended by Levin and Lawrence, who have been
outspoken against the detentions, Manna said.
Trott and six
other House Republicans did write a separate letter on Thursday to the
national director of ICE, but it was not as critical of the arrests as
the letter by the other U.S. representatives.
"The people who
voted for Donald Trump, they are very disappointed," said Dr. Jacoub
Mansour of West Bloomfield, a longtime leader in the Chaldean community.
"They didn't expect him to do that. I don't think in future elections,
they will vote for him."
Mike Sarafa, a Chaldean advocate
from Bloomfield Hills, said that some in the Chaldean community who
backed Trump thought the administration would not target them for
"The community largely supported Trump and
sometimes, you get what you asked for," Sarafa said. "When somebody has
kind of reactionary tendencies, they're not bound by anything. So why
people would have thought he would have targeted only Mexicans and
Muslims, I'm not sure."
Denha, the sister of Butris, one of the Iraqis detained, got some good news later in the week when ICE decided to allow him to stay in the U.S. until at least Aug. 10, when he will have a court hearing.
and other Iraqi nationals are currently in custody at an immigration
detention center in Youngstown, Ohio. ICE said they all have criminal
backgrounds, including Butris, who pleaded guilty in 1999 to possessing
several pounds of marijuana.
Denha is worried he could be
deported to Iraq, a country he hasn't lived in since 1992, when he was a
teenager. She said his three children, ages 3, 9, and 12, depend on
After his arrest, his 3-year-old son "was crying: 'I want my dad, I want my dad'" Denha said. "He was crying so bad."
Butris is deported, he won't be able to survive, she said. Butris has
heart problems, is unfamiliar with Iraq, and will be a targeted minority
"What is he going to do?" she said. "It's a war there,
they are killing people. There are ISIS there. ... I want my brother