Federal immigration authorities have rounded up 199 Iraqi nationals across the country — including in Atlanta, Detroit and Nashville — in recent weeks, prompting fears they will be deported to their Middle Eastern homeland amid deadly sectarian violence and fierce fighting to dislodge the Islamic State.
Three Kurdish men who came from Iraq as asylees were arrested this month in Atlanta. And 114 Iraqi natives were detained in the Detroit area last weekend. Many of them are Christians, The Detroit Free Press reported. Iraqi Kurds and Christians — who have long faced persecution — are strong U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State.
This is the second such enforcement operation targeting people from a Muslim-majority country in the span of three months. In April, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers arrested many Somalis in parts of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties, including in Clarkston, a haven for immigrants and refugees.
Citing concerns about terrorism, President Donald Trump has unsuccessfully sought to temporarily ban travelers from Iraq and Somalia and five other Muslim-majority countries through a pair of executive orders in recent months. But his directives have stalled in federal courts under constitutional challenges. The Trump administration has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in.
An ICE spokesman emphasized his agency is not targeting people for deportation based on their religion. He would not say how many Iraqi nationals have been arrested so far, though he said more details would be announced in the coming days. All those arrested have convictions for serious crimes, including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault and weapons violations, according to ICE.
“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,” ICE spokesman Bryan Cox said in a prepared statement. “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.”
As of April 17, Cox said, there were 1,444 Iraqi nationals with standing deportation orders. Since the Trump administration reached its agreement with the Iraqi government on March 12, eight Iraqi nationals have been deported to that country from the U.S.
Rebwar Hassan of Norcross, Yhya Noroly of Lawrenceville and Muhammed Dezayee of LaGrange said they were arrested on June 1 after ICE summoned them for an appointment in downtown Atlanta to have their fingerprints taken. They are now being held at the Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, where they spoke with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by phone. All three of them were ordered deported by immigration judges after they were convicted of aggravated felonies, according to ICE.
Hassan said his convictions for aggravated assault and cruelty to children stem from a confrontation with his ex-wife. Hassan is a building contractor who is married with a U.S.-born daughter and two stepchildren, one of whom was also born here. The main breadwinner for his family, he fears being sent to Iraq, a country he has not seen since the 1990s when his family fled the Saddam Hussein regime.
“If I go back there … it would be really, really dangerous,” Hassan said. “Plus, I have my wife, my kids, my business, my house — I have everything here.”
Hassan’s attorney, Latrice Latin, said she is working to get him released on bond.
“There are a lot of people who during the Obama administration were not being arrested,” Latin said. “Their countries didn’t want them back. And so the administration allowed them to stay here, work and report.
“They checked in every single month on time,” she continued. “They got along with their lives. They have families. They have wives. They have children. And it seems as soon as the Trump administration came in they made some types of deals with these countries and started arresting them.”
An auto body repair shop owner, Dezayee said he was convicted of aggravated assault after he sought to defend himself against an aggressor in a fight following a car accident. He said his father worked for a humanitarian organization that helped Kurds in Iraq. The family fled to the U.S. by way of Guam when he was 14. Dezayee has a wife — a U.S. citizen who is pregnant with their child — and three children who are U.S. citizens. He fears what the Islamic State would do to him if he were to be sent back to his native country.
“I don’t know anybody over there,” he said. “I don’t know anywhere to go to. Anywhere I go — there is a war in my country.”
Noroly, who has an 11-year-old stepson and who worked for a company that manufacturers conveyor belts, was convicted of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated robbery and fleeing or attempting to elude police for a felony offense. He said his criminal case amounted to “being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Noroly said his father worked as a security guard for a humanitarian organization in Iraq. Like Dezayee, he came to the U.S. by way of Guam and now fears what the Islamic State could do to him.
“They don’t agree with the western style,” he said. “Growing up in the West is a threat to them.”
Alarmed by the arrests, advocates for refugees are highlighting how Kurds are stalwart U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State, or ISIS.
“ISIS is specifically targeting Kurds right now because they consider Kurds infidels and even worse than that,” said Heval Kelli, a Syrian Kurd who came to the U.S. as a refugee in 2001. “The Kurds have been one of the very few people who have been resisting ISIS successfully in Syria and Iraq.”
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