Christians Among Illegal Immigrants Facing Deportation

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has sent its first batch of deportees to Iraq. The first charter flight to Baghdad since 2010 left the United States on Wednesday, April 19, carrying eight Iraqis illegally staying in the country. They are among the 1,444 Iraqi nationals across the country with final orders of repatriation.

Charles Reed/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement via REUTERSU.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers detain a suspect as they conduct a targeted enforcement operation in Los Angeles, California, February 7, 2017.

Activists have been fighting to stop the deportation of Iraqis that include an estimated 300 Chaldeans who will become targets of terrorists if they are sent back to their native country. An online petition seeking to cancel deportation proceedings of Iraqi Christians have gathered 950 signatures as or press time.

For a long time, Iraq refused to accept deportees but reversed its policy in March in exchange for its removal in the list of countries where the Trump administration implemented an immigration travel ban. As a result, ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations has been ordered to move forward with the deportations.

One of the Chaldeans facing repatriation is 55-year-old Nahidh Shaou, a decorated soldier of the U.S. Army. His family moved to the United States when he was 5.

"I'm scared to death. If I show up on their soil, my beheading will probably be on YouTube," he said. "I honestly believe that is what is going to happen."

Shaou's immigration status wasn't approved after he injured an officer during a restaurant robbery in 1983 for which he was imprisoned for the past 33 and a half years. He could have been included in the first batch of deportees but his lawyer filed an emergency motion to stop his repatriation on humanitarian consideration.

Joseph Kassab, founder and president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute, described the Trump administration's extreme vetting as inhumane.

"The U.S. accepts religious minorities from Iraq under heavy religious persecution as refugees, and now we are sending Christians back to Iraq to be killed?" he said.