President Donald Trump vowed last week to grant “extensions” to stay in the United States to some Iraqi Christians that his administration had earlier sought to deport despite concerns they could face persecution upon return to the Middle East.
He made the promise to grant extensions to a community of Chaldean Catholic immigrants during his speech last Thursday at an auto parts manufacturing plant in Warren, Michigan.
Hundreds of Iraqi Christian immigrants live in the Detroit area. In the last few years, they have lived in fear of deportation as the administration focused on enforcing outstanding deportation orders from the Obama administration and other previous administrations.
"We're going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm's way," Trump said. "When I get back [to Washington], we're going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country."
Many of the Iraqi Christian immigrants in Detroit had lived in the U.S. for decades. With the community leaning conservative, many of them were pulling for Trump in the 2016 election.
The administration had sought to deport as many as 1,400 Iraqis nationwide as part of a reported deal with the Iraqi government in 2017. The Iraqi government previously did not accept Iraqis returned by the U.S. until the deal was reached to keep Iraq off the administration’s travel ban list.
The administration’s plans to deport hundreds of Iraqi Christians back to a land where Christians were recently victims of genocide by the Islamic State drew concerns from evangelical leaders affiliated with the Evangelical Immigration Table and other human rights activists.
Trump explained during his remarks in Warren that he had discussed the deportation of Iraqi Christians with Republican lawmakers from Michigan during their flight from Washington.
According to Reuters, five Republican lawmakers from Michigan attended the Trump event in Warren.
“[T]he congressmen were telling me on the plane how rough it’s been for [the Iraqi Christians],” Trump said. “It’s been a very tough time for a lot of Christians all over the world. And so we’re going to be extending them. And a lot of people in Michigan have been asking for that. So we’ll work with that when we get back with your great congressmen.”
One of the lawmakers who made the trip with Trump was Michigan Republican John Moolenaar.
Moolenaar, along with Michigan Democrat Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives last year that would pause Iraqi deportations.
The bill was introduced months before the August 2019 death of 41-year-old Jimmy Aldaoud, a mentally challenged Chaldean who lived in the U.S. since he was six months old but was deported last year. Aldaoud, who lived in the Detroit area prior to his deportation, was reportedly unable to receive care to treat his diabetes in Iraq.
Levin responded to Trump’s vow in a tweet.
“The president’s words inspire me with cautious optimism, but let me be extremely clear — relief must be extended to all Iraqi nationals who would face danger if they are deported against their will,” Levin stated.
In a tweet following his Air Force One ride with Trump, Moolenaar reiterated that the Iraqi Christian deportation issue has been a “key priority for our state.”
“It is not safe for Christians in Iraq,” Moolenaar wrote.