This week, two of my home-state congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation to ensure that approximately 1,000 Iraqis who are now at risk of deportation or detention are given two years to have their immigration cases heard. I’m so grateful to Congressman Andy Levin (D-Mich.) and Congressman John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) for their action because no other family should have to suffer like mine did.
A little over a year ago, my dad was one of more than 300 Iraqi nationals arrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). With no warning, ICE planned to deport them back to Iraq where they would likely be persecuted, tortured or even killed. People in Iraq could become targets for crimes like kidnapping and even murder just for having lived in the U.S., and as Chaldean Catholics we are especially vulnerable to religious persecution.
I’ll never forget the day my father was arrested. My parents, brother and sisters were getting ready for Sunday Mass. Four ICE agents came to our door and took my father away in handcuffs. I still remember the look of fear in his eyes as we hugged and said goodbye, not knowing if we would ever see him again. Later, my family learned that many others had been arrested and that they were all going to be deported.
He was locked up for eight months. My mother tried her best to be both parents to her four children, but the emptiness pervaded our lives. My brother, normally a happy and social teen, rarely left his room. My sisters were quiet and kept to themselves. Even together, we felt alone.
Each week we drove three hours roundtrip for a 30-minute visit with our dad at the St. Clair County Jail. We were unable to touch or hug him, and could only look at him through a thick, smudged glass window. We had to shout over a loud, blaring fan just to talk. To keep him involved in our lives, we brought photos of my brother as the Walled Lake Central High School homecoming king, of our Thanksgiving dinner, and of Christmas. It was excruciating to watch my dad realize he was missing these milestones. The once strong man, the rock for us and our entire extended family, seemed so helpless and afraid. The worst part came when we said goodbye, leaving our dad behind thick glass in a dingy jail—where he did not belong.
The ACLU and partner organizations sued ICE to stop the deportations of my dad and the other Iraqis who were locked up. They argued that they would be sent back to a country with dangerous conditions based on removal orders from decades ago, and that their cases must be re-opened and re-evaluated. Thankfully, Judge Mark Goldsmith agreed. My dad’s case was reopened in December 2018, a year and a half after he was arrested.
My dad is now safe at home with our family while we wait for January 14, 2020 when an immigration judge will decide whether he gets his green card back and can apply for citizenship. If it wasn’t for Judge Goldsmith’s order, we would have lost him to deportation long before an immigration judge had even opened his file.
But a recent ruling from the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed Judge Goldsmith’s decision, and our community is at risk again. Approximately 1,000 Iraqis—many of them parents of kids like me—now can be immediately arrested and deported, before an immigration court even has a chance to decide if it is too dangerous for them to be sent back.
As tough as this has been for our family, we are the lucky ones. My dad will get his day in court. He can be with us for the little things, like family dinner, and the big things, like my graduation from the University of Michigan earlier this month. For now, at least, he does not have to fear being rearrested, detained or deported. And I don’t have to fear that another knock on the door will tear him from my life forever.
My dad just needed an opportunity to show how dangerous it was for him to be sent to Iraq. That’s why the legislation introduced this week is so critical. For these families, who all have deep ties to the U.S., this bill will be the difference between facing immediate deportation or having their day in court..
Everyone should be afforded that justice. My community deserves that same opportunity to stand before a judge and make the case that their loved ones belong home with them, not arrested, detained, and deported—for their parents to be with them, for little and big moments, while they wait for that fateful decision in immigration court. Let’s make sure every family gets the chance my family has had and pass this bill.