Legal status of Eastern Christian immigrants to U.S. requires special consideration

The legal status of Eastern Christian immigrants to the United States requires special consideration, something worth keeping in mind as Chaldeans in the Detroit area fight an immigration crackdown.

America has had a decent record across the years of taking in people from places that we and others have beaten up militarily. Examples include refugees from World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and other conflicts.

The Middle East has for centuries hosted a panoply of devotees of many diverse religions. These have included some of the most ancient forms of Christianity, in Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Life has become progressively more difficult for them over the years as dictators, extremists, and wars have proliferated. The wars have shown an unfortunate tendency to sometimes be waged on religious grounds.

For example, in Iraq, which at one time was the home of many different Christian and other sects, first there was the cruel dictatorship of President Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Muslim, starting in 1979. Then there was the allied invasion of 1991, followed in 2003 by the invasion and then war-torn occupation of Iraq by the United States.

The inflammation of religious antagonism that occasioned the appearance on the scene of al-Qaeda and then the Islamic State basically made Iraq uninhabitable for Christians, particularly those of small, old sects, unable to defend themselves. The population of Chaldean Christians, for example, in Iraq dropped from 1.4 million to an estimated 250,000. Ur of the Chaldees is believed to be the birthplace of Abraham, recognized by Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but that didn’t help the Chaldeans much.

Churches were leveled, cemeteries desecrated, and people killed or driven out. There are an estimated 300,000 Chaldeans in the United States, many of them in the Detroit area. Now, under the approach of the administration of President Trump, enforcing immigration regulations more strictly, some of the Chaldeans are facing deportation proceedings.

The government has admitted to detaining dozens of Iraqi nationals since mid-June, saying they had committed crimes or other immigration violations. Supporters have rallied to their defense, saying the Chaldeans face persecution or death back in Iraq. A federal judge has suspended deportation proceedings until July 24.

No one would argue that they should get a free pass. At the same time, their situation in the world and in America, involved in warfare in Iraq off and on for 26 years now, is somewhat unique. That distinct quality should be taken into account in determining their fate, whatever American immigration law and regulations may say. They are part of our heritage.