Evangelical Groups to Trump: Don't Deport Iraqi Christians

Chaldean-American Lavrena Kenawa (center, standing) cries during a rally outside the Mother of God Catholic Chaldean church in Southfield, Michigan, U.S., on June 12, 2017. Kenawa's uncle was among those seized on Sunday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. | (PHOTO: REUTERS/REBECCA COOK)

A group of evangelical Christian organizations and others have sent a letter to the Trump administration in protest of the potential deportation of Iraqi Christians from the United States.

Evangelical leaders, including Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference President Samuel Rodriguez, and National Association for Evangelicals President Leith Anderson, signed a Monday letter from the Evangelical Immigration Table to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

"We write urgently and with grave concern that Christians will be removed from the United States to face potential persecution, and even death, in the Middle East," reads the letter.

"Recent reports ... indicate that a number of these Chaldean Christians face an immediate threat of deportation back to Iraq, a country where, as a result of their faith, they are likely to face oppression, persecution, and possibly even death at the hands of extremists."

A demonstrator holds a sign to protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning refugees and immigrants from seven primarily Muslim countries from entering the United States during a rally in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. February 4, 2017 | (Photo: Reuters/Tom Mihalek)

The letter went on to appeal to President Donald Trump's recent efforts to advance religious liberty at home and abroad.

"To that end, we would ask that the Administration exercise the discretion available under law to defer the deportation of Chaldeans who pose no threat to U.S. public safety to Iraq until such time as the situation in Iraq stabilizes and its government proves willing and capable of protecting the rights of religious minorities," continued the letter.

"We would urge you to take the same approach to any individual, regardless of whether they share our Christian faith or not, who does not pose a threat to the safety of Americans and for whom deportation would be likely to result in persecution, torture, or death."

Other signatories of the letter were Shirley V. Hoogstra, president of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities; Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief; Jo Anne Lyon, General Superintendent Emerita of The Wesleyan Church; and Hyepin Im, president & CEO of Korean Churches for Community Development. 

The Evangelical Immigration Table is a diverse coalition of evangelical groups and leaders who seek to advance a biblically-centered immigration reform plan.

Last week Reuters reported that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had arrested and were planning to deport about 200 Iraqi Christians, mostly living in the Detroit area.

"The actions came as part of the Trump administration's push to increase immigration enforcement and make countries, which have resisted in the past, take back nationals ordered deported from the United States," reported Reuters.

"The overwhelming majority of those arrested had criminal convictions for crimes including murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, weapons violations and other offenses ..."

Aside from the letter, Moore also tweeted his objection to the plan to deport the Iraqi Christians, stating on the social media site Twitter that it is " wrong, wrong, wrong" and a "death sentence" to those expected to be deported. 

Criticism also came from at least one evangelical supporter of President Trump — the Rev. Franklin Graham, head of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

"I find it very disturbing what I have read about Chaldean Christians being rounded up by U.S. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for possible deportation. I would encourage the president to have someone investigate these cases thoroughly," Graham said on Facebook last week.

"I understand a policy of deporting people who are here illegally and have broken the law. I don't know all of the details, but I would encourage our president to give great consideration to the threat to lives of Christians in countries like Iraq."

Follow Michael Gryboski on Twitter or Facebook

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