Detroit’s Iraqi Christian roundup: An incarceration update
July 30, 2017
Until recently, Yani Daoud installed carpets to earn a living for his family back in Warren. Now, the 41-year-old is locked in a federal detention facility in Youngstown Ohio, waiting to learn if and when he’ll be deported to Iraq. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” Daoud told his wife Angela by phone. “It’s basically we’re on death row. That’s how we all feel.” Back in June, a sweep by Immigration and Customs (ICE) enforcement picked up more than a hundred Iraqi nationals in Michigan and Ohio with the intent of deporting them to Iraq. In Iraq, Muslim extremists like ISIS are known to persecute Christians. “What’s the Iraqi government going to do with us?” Daoud asked. “Are they going to imprison us? Torture us? Throw us in a shallow ditch? It’s not only ISIS that we have to fear. You have Sunnis attacking Shiites and vice versa. You can’t put Christians in the mix.” “I may never see him again,” his wife Angela said. “He’s got a cross on his arm. He doesn’t speak the language. He only knows America.”
ICE agents picked up Daoud June 12th after he drove to a gas station near his home. According to his wife, Daoud was targeted because of a drug conviction involving marijuana that happened a decade ago. While most of those detained by ICE in June are Chaldean Christians, Daoud is Assyrian, another Iraqi Christian ethnic group. Daoud’s parents fled Iraq to Greece where he was born and lived until he was six, coming to the U.S. 36 years ago. He’s lived in the Detroit area for decades, where he has since married Angela Daoud, a U.S. citizen, and now has a fifteen-year-old son, David, also a U.S. citizen. “I feel like he’s been kidnapped,” Angela Daoud said, “I just want him to come home.” It’s a four-hour drive to Youngstown so Angela can’t make the trip as often as she’d like. “Maybe once every couple of weeks,” she said. He’s in a high security facility. “There’s no physical contact,” Angela said. “We just talk on the phone, behind glass.”
Nationwide advocates for detainees estimate approximately 200 Iraqi Christians are in custody, with another 1,200 at risk for arrest. Those detained have criminal records. ICE issued a statement from ICE Acting Director Thomas Homan regarding those detained, “The criminal history of these aliens includes convictions for homicide, rape, aggravated assault, drug trafficking, sex assault and many other types of offenses.” While some of the detainees have committed serious offenses, many of them are for nonviolent crimes like Daoud’s. “They categorized them all the same way,” said Southfield attorney Justin Hanna, who is Chaldean and whose firm Jaffe Raitt Heuer & Weiss represents some of the detainees. “To people who don’t know any better it gives them a bad perception,” Hanna said. The American Civil Liberties Union and Code Legal Aid, a Detroit area Chaldean support group, have filed suit on the detainees’ behalf. A federal judge in Detroit had granted temporary stays to give more time for the detainees, many who have been moved to facilities in in Ohio, Louisiana and Arizona, to find legal representation. Last week the judge extended his ruling, giving detainees another 90 days to secure legal representation. Angela Daoud found a lawyer for her husband just a few days after he was arrested, costing the family $5,000. The lawyer filed a motion to reopen his case but has yet to receive a response.
It might be a year or more for the legal process to run its course because of a shortage of immigration judges, according to Nadine Yousif Kalasho of Code Legal Aid. “If the motion is denied, they can appeal,” she said. However, ICE might decide to appear the federal judge’s stay of proceedings, perhaps speeding up the deportation process. Khaalid Walls, a spokesman for ICE, said his agency is still reviewing the judge’s decision to determine whether it should appeal. It’s also unclear if the detainees will be released while they wait for their cases to be heard, but Angela Daoud hopes her husband will be freed from custody after ninety days in detention, after which ICE must justify why he’s being detained if he hasn’t been deported. That date comes in September. Meanwhile the uncertainty weighs heavily on the detainees. Yani Daoud said, “I’ve seen grown men, stronger than me, just deteriorating. Sobbing like little babies.” While Daoud and the others might have been subject to deportation at any time based on their criminal pasts, under Presidents Reagan, Bush, Clinton, the second Bush and Obama, attorney Justin Hanna notes, “They weren’t a priority.” Under Trump, that’s changed. Daoud and his family’s support for Trump has also changed. They’d been enthusiastic boosters like many Iraqi Christians last fall. Daoud’s son David said, “He vowed to protect these people, the Christians, and he’s sending all these people back. It’s just true betrayal.” There have been a national stories about possible deportation of the Iraqi Christians, but not enough for Yani Daoud. “We’re being drowned out with Trump’s administration falling apart,” Daoud said. “Sean Spicer’s gone; they’ll talk about it for five days. Kushner does something; they’ll talk about it for another five days. Now he said something about the Attorney General. That’s big news.” Other than follow the news, he said there’s not a lot to do in Youngstown: “We hold prayer circles every day, every night before we get locked down. That’s all we have right now.”
In this One Detroit feature video story that first aired on Detroit Public Television’s MiWeek hosted by Christy McDonald, producers Bill Kubota and Zosette Guir visited the Daoud family in Warren, Michigan and heard from Yani Daoud from the federal detention facility in Youngstown Ohio.