More than two dozen Iraqi Chaldean Christians forced from their homes by ISIS have been detained at an ICE detention center in California for six months after crossing the border from Mexico.
The San Diego Union reported July 31 that 20 of the 27 Chaldeans at the Otay Detention Center in Otay Mesa, California, have American family members living in Southern California who are willing to sponsor them.
Family members have been holding weekly vigils and rallies to draw attention to the detentions. Large U.S. Chaldean Catholic communities reside in San Diego and Detroit.
The family members say they’ve been given few details on why they’ve been detained for so long, despite being refugees from Middle East terror.
“These aren’t people who just decided to cross the U.S.-Mexico border. These are people saying, ‘we have nowhere else to go,'” Mark Arabo, a spokesman for the Chaldean community, told the San Diego Union.
“It seems like the border is open to everyone unless you’re an Iraq Christian fleeing ISIS,” Arabo told Bill O’Reilly of Fox News Monday. “Obama is to blame, Congress is to blame, and the U.S. State Department is to blame.”
The Chaldean Christians are being held “without any logic or explanation; they’ve escaped ISIS only to be imprisoned by ICE. These are 20 innocent Christians who escaped a holocaust only to be imprisoned by ICE,” Arabo said. “These are people we should be celebrating not imprisoning.”
Lauren Mack, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed that 27 Iraqi nationals are in custody but she told the Union she couldn’t comment on individual immigration cases.
The extended detention of the Iraqi Christians represents a stark contrast from the way the wave of Central American women and children were treated when they massed at the border last summer. The overwhelming majority were detained for a matter of days or weeks, then released and given a hearing date to appear in immigration court.
Former Republican Congressman Frank Wolf of Virginia, who now serves as a distinguished senior fellow at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, which advocates for persecuted Christians worldwide, said the situation is a sad commentary on the state of U.S. priorities when it comes to asylum seekers.
“One can understand why they would leave their country when they are facing genocide,” Wolf told WND. “I have seen the area they came from (in Iraq).”
It’s not a surprise that Christians being hunted down by ISIS would seek to leave and find refuge in a country like the U.S. where they have family ties and cultural ties, he said.
‘Inherent bias against Christians’
“The fact that the border is so porous is an indictment of this administration. People have been talking about it for years,” Wolf said. “But for Chaldean Christians, for them to have to go back to Iraq, wow, when for other border crossers the norm is they process them, give them a court date and release them.”
Wolf said there seems to be an “inherent bias” against Christians in the current administration.
He said it’s clearly easier to get asylum in the U.S. as a Muslim than it is for a Christian and it’s been that way for a number of years.
“I don’t know why, but if you look the latest numbers that have come out it’s pretty clear,” Wolf said. “Remember when the 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded they were referred to as Egyptian migrant workers, not Christians. And when the 148 Kenyan Christians were executed by al-Shabaab they were not called Christians, so you clearly have an inherent bias in the State Department. I think it’s more in this administration than I’ve ever seen it but I think even in previous administrations that bias has existed within the State Department.”
Joop Koopman, communications manager for Aid to the Church in Need USA, a Catholic relief organization, said the treatment of the Chaldeans seems out of step with current U.S. immigration policy, unless there is more to the story that is not known.
“Leaving aside the specifics of the immigration laws and the border crossing it does seem to call to mind the administration’s reluctance to talk specifically about Christian persecution by Muslim extremists, under which, at least in theory, these people would deserve asylum,” Koopman said. “But there may be other reasons we don’t know.”
Koopman said these types of asylum cases will only increase as ISIS and other militant Islamists make the final push to eradicate Christianity from its birthplace in the Middle East.
“It is clear there will be more and more of these kinds of cases coming, as Chaldean Christians are forced out of their country, they will have no alternative but for mass immigration,” he said. “So what will we do? Will the U.S. and other countries make room for them? The big question is, will persecution by ISIS qualify as grounds for asylum?”
Only Muslims need apply?
Pamela Geller, an activist, blogger and author, said the Obama administration has demonstrated an “unstated preference” for Muslim immigrants over Christians.
“This goes hand-in-hand with his almost complete silence about the Muslim persecution of Christians worldwide, and his consistent failure when he does address it to identify the perpetrators,” Geller told WND. “We have seen this throughout his presidency: a relentless tendency to favor Muslims and paint a rosy, fictional view of Islam, while being harsh toward Christianity. It is all part of his post-American agenda, as I explained in my 2010 book, ‘The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War On America.‘”
‘Horrific conditions’ for Christians in Iraq
Wolf said he visited Iraq in January and was struck by the horrific conditions under which Christians are forced to live.
“In January we spent five days there and the conditions are brutal.”
Just last week, on July 30, Wolf sent a letter to president Obama and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon asking that they declare what is taking place in Iraq and Syria to be an official genocide.
A cover story in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, for instance, describes the abduction of a 3-year-old girl from her mother, and the separation of captives into “healthy” and “infirm” groups, a gesture chillingly reminiscent of the Holocaust. Often, there is a third group, comprised of women, soon to be sold as sex slaves, according to Wolf’s report.
There are also reports of children born to these captured women, Wolf wrote in the letter, who are raised “to conform to the insurgency’s interpretation of ‘pure’ Islam.”
“ISIS has kidnapped and forcibly transferred the children of Christians and Yazidis, including children as young as seven months,” Wolf added. “Reports indicate that these children are being intimidated and brainwashed in order to create the next generation of radical insurgents.” For this reason, “it is imperative that the issue be brought immediately before the Security Council and that a declaration of genocide be made.”
What is going on there meets the test of U.N. Article 2 of what constitutes a genocide, Wolf said.
A growing ‘sense of abandonment’ by Western Christians
Wolf described the Iraqi Christian community, 1.5 million strong when the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, as “on the edge of extinction.”
“We went to Erbil, and to the front lines where the Peshmerga (Kurds) are fighting ISIS using very old weapons, and then to the refugee camps, we went through the whole area, to the Nineveh plain, where Christian militia have formed, like a national guard, to defend their villages,” Wolf said. “But the Christians and the Yazidis are all facing genocide and their stories are so frightening. We interviewed two 17 to 18-year-old girls who were kidnapped by ISIS and escaped. They feel a tremendous sense of abandonment by the West, particularly those who are Christians.”
One man told the story of his wife, who was in the hospital with breast cancer when ISIS came in and took over.
“And ISIS went to the hospital and told them they would only treat his wife if they converted to Islam,” Wolf said. “The wife refused to convert, the husband also, and she died without treatment, and they feel why isn’t the church in the West, why isn’t someone advocating for them?
“So the conditions there are horrible, and there will be no way you can send these Chaldeans back,” without them being killed.
Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have now dwindled to about 250,000.
“Roughly 17 Iraqi Christian families leave every day,” Wolf said. “Some went to Syria and now they’re been pushed out of Syria.”
Wolf said he would not be surprised, “if within a year you see the black flag of ISIS flying over Damascus.”
“The noose is tightening around Assad,” he said. “We’re not even aiding the Kurds who are fighting ISIS.”
More biblical activity occurred in Iraq than in Israel, Wolf said.
“Rebekah and Daniel were buried in Iraq, Ezekiel was buried in Iraq, Nahum’s tomb is there, and of course Jonah’s tomb was blown up a few months ago by ISIS, so the cradle of Christianity is ready to be emptied of Christians.”