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ICE Raids Against Iraqi Catholics Present Existential Problem For Refugees

To the sound of chilling screams, dozens of Chaldeans and other Iraqis were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents on June 11 in Michigan. The raids occurred in Dearborn, West Bloomfield, and Sterling Heights.

Eman Jojonie-Daman, an immigrant lawyer representing some of those who were rounded up, told CBS that sweeps targeting Iraqi Christians in the Metro area took place in the early morning.

“They took them all in to the ICE office in downtown Detroit and put them on buses to get them ready to go to Youngstown, Ohio to the Northeast Correctional Facility there for final deportation back to Iraq,” Jojonie-Daman explained.

According to the Chaldean Community Foundation, outside of Iraq, Metro Detroit is home to the largest Chaldean population—121,000. Some residents have ties to the metroplex that reach as far back as the 1920s.

Chaldeans, an indigenous people, are a Catholic minority in Iraq with historical association to ancient Mesopotamia.

In Iraq, they face widespread discrimination that manifests in waves of targeted violence against their churches, homes, and villages. Their plight is largely ignored. And now, President Donald Trump’s administration is deporting them back to Iraq, where they’ll face discriminatory violence, and even death, at the hands of extremist groups like the Islamic State, which targets and kills members of minority sects.

Ramsin Canon, a former union organizer and Assyrian-American raised in the Chicago diaspora community, comes from the north of Iraq and Baghdad. His father was an Assyrian activist under the Baath regime before fleeing with his mother and earning political asylum.

As an attorney in Chicago, Canon was among the legal advocates, who came to O’Hare International Airport on the first night Trump’s travel ban went into effect. He is currently active with the Chicago Legal Responders Network created in the wake of that action.

Canon told Shadowproof that Chaldeans, like other minorities in the Middle East and North Africa, came to the U.S. “in waves of reaction to various political events in the Middle East, starting with the Turkish genocide, accelerated by various Arab nationalist eruptions up through the ascension of Saddam Hussein in the late Seventies.”

He also said the Chaldean population in metropolitan Detroit has a high rate of small business ownership, “but like many groups that settled in Detroit, they first settled there because of the availability of manufacturing jobs.”

The ICE raid on Sunday, which produced a chilling effect within the small community, came without warning, Canon said, although ICE may have worked with local authorities in order to identify and apprehend specific individuals.

“What we know is that ICE had identified people they were searching for, they showed up at churches and likely other locations and identified and detained those on their target lists,” according to Canon.

While mainstream publications, going on what ICE officials have so far disclosed, allege upwards of 40 people were detained, Canon alleged the number was closer to 50. He maintained there was a wide variation of justifications for the arrests despite most reports alleging criminal activity.

“Some had drug arrests that were decades old, some had long rap sheets, some, we think, just lacked permanent status. We are still trying to organize support for the community there to determine who was detained and why,” Canon shared.

Since the raids, Chaldean and Assyrian communities reacted with some degree of surprise, Canon says, “because of the rhetoric of the Trump administration and the right generally that the plight of ‘Middle Eastern Christians’ needed to be a central one to American foreign and immigration policy.”

Community organizers in and outside the church scrambled to find legal and family support for those impacted. They also sought to prepare the community for future ICE raids.

“Given the disaster for Iraqi minorities,” Canon said communities thought there would be favorable treatment from the Trump administration After all, “More than a million Assyrians and Chaldeans have fled Iraq since 2013, a virtual wipeout of the population from areas they had lived for, literally, thousands of years.”

“There are families who have been in this country for decades being shattered, given the dangerous conditions in Iraq and on-going coercive land transfers,” Canon noted. “These deportations will undoubtedly result in misery, if not outright killings.”

Many of the Chaldeans are from Mosul. Before the intense Arabification under Baathists and the Iraq War, they comprised a significant portion of the country’s urban bourgeoisie.

Canon further indicated the destruction of Mosul and the mass exodus of Assyrians and Chaldeans from the district “means that those being deported have literally nothing to return to—no homes, no family, or even extended family.” They face a “hostile local population.”

For Chaldeans and Assyrians delicately settled in the West, this raid means that they are at risk of becoming what Canon described as “a people with no place in the world.”

“For a people with such small numbers already, that is an existential problem.”

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at