Top U.S. Catholic leaders have joined leading evangelicals in condemning the arrests of hundreds of Chaldean Christians across the U.S., as relatives in Detroit continue to protest against immigration authorities.
"While we urge review of these Christian and Chaldean Catholic cases in light of the situation in Iraq, we note that some of these individuals have orders of deportation because they have committed serious criminal offenses in the past," read the letter on Monday to U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, John F. Kelly.
The letter was signed by the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, as well as the Chairman of the USCCB Committee on Migration, Bishop Joe S. Vásquez of Austin, among others.
The statement agrees that, as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have pointed out, those arrested with serious criminal offenses need to be punished accordingly.
"After serving their sentences, however, we believe it would not be just or humane to deport a person who has integrated into American life and poses no evident risk to the local community," the Catholic leaders added.
"The fact that they have a significant risk of experiencing persecution and even possible bodily harm because of their faith is, from our moral perspective, an important factor to be weighed in the calculation to deport."
The Catholic News Service reported on Monday that relatives of the arrested Chaldean Christians have been protesting in Detroit, holding up signs, crosses, and American flags in front of the Patrick V. McNamara Federal Building.
Democratic Rep. Sander Levin, who backed the protests, said: "We are here on behalf of the Chaldean community, proclaiming this as not only a Chaldean issue, but an American issue. We're saying to ICE, let there be time for justice. Sec. Kelly said, 'We're only going after the 'worst of the worst.' There arrests have been made without regard to what crime has been committed, or what sentences have already been served."
As Immigration officials have previously said, the arrests in May and June have been part of efforts to "process the backlog" of "Iraqi nationals, all of whom had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations and other offenses."
Notable evangelical leaders, such as Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, have spoken out against the arrests, however.
"This is wrong, wrong, wrong. A death sentence for those we should be protecting," Moore wrote in a tweet on Saturday, referring to the threat of genocide the Christians face in Iraq at the hands of the Islamic State terror group.
The Rev. Franklin Graham, who has backed President Donald Trump on a number of his refugee and border protection policies, also warned of the dangers of deportation.
"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 in a Facebook post on June 16.
"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."