The US is getting ready to deport 1,400 Iraqis, some 300 are Chaldean Christians. One is an American veteran, who, if forced to return to his homeland that has seen two-thirds of fellow Christians flee the country, could face being killed.
Nahidh Shaou could be deported any day now, according to a report in Christianity Today.
“As a Christian and a veteran of the US military, being forcibly returned to Iraq—a homeland he hasn’t seen since he was five years old—could prove to be a death sentence,” said the report.
“Until April of this year, Iraq had not accepted deportees from the United States since 2010. That policy changed when one of President Donald Trump’s early executive orders included Iraq on a list of seven countries targeted with a temporary travel ban. As part of the deal to be removed from the list, Iraq agreed to begin taking deportees again.”
Law enforcement officers escorted the first of those Iraqis boarded a small plane in Louisiana in April, bound for Baghdad.
“Shaou was supposed to be on that plane. But at the 11th hour, he was granted an emergency stay after his lawyer, Richard Kent, filed an appeal to defer Shaou’s removal.
“With dozens of Iraqi Christians rounded up in Michigan just this past weekend, the situation remains dire.”
“Without a final decision on his status, he can be deported at any time,” says Tina Ramirez, president of Hardwired Inc, which provides training and education programs to foster religious freedom in countries in conflict.
Shaou’s case is divisive for a number of reasons. For one thing, he’s a convicted criminal.
After serving in Korea’s demilitarized zone in the early 1980s, during which time his father died, Shaou returned to the US and, suffering from PTSD, was honorably discharged. Soon after, at the age of 20, he shot and wounded a police officer during a robbery near Detroit and was sentenced to 35 years in prison.
He finished his sentence last fall. But instead of being released, Shaou was immediately detained by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and scheduled to be deported on the April flight.
“He’ll be targeted for his Christian faith, his Chaldean ethnicity, his veteran status—that will be seen as traitorous,” said Tiara Shaya, Shaou’s niece and one of his primary advocates. “The big giveaways will be not being able to speak Arabic and not having an ID.”
ISIS’s reign of terror aimed at Christians and other minorities in Iraq and Syria—a phenomenon that President Trump, the Obama administration, and Congress have referred to as genocide—is perilous for anyone in its path. With no Iraqi papers, no connections, and an American accent, Shaou’s future would be doubly dangerous.
“I see it as a death sentence,” said Shaya. “I really don’t know how he could survive with the combination of targets on his back.”
The US has committed itself to a variety of international treaties, such as the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture, that prevent it from returning anyone to circumstances in which they are likely to be persecuted or tortured. However, there are limits to that commitment—especially when someone presents a grave threat or when they have committed a “particularly serious” crime.
“The interpretation of whether or not a crime is considered ‘particularly serious’ is dictated by the type of relief an applicant is seeking, and can also involve some subjectivity on the part of a judge,” said Courtney Tudi, director of immigrant legal services at World Relief.
Hardwired’s Ramirez describes Shaou’s case as a perfect example of the potential complexity of deportation cases. “Not every case is clear cut, and there needs to be greater discretion for whether the removals are necessary or not in each case,” she said.
The moral responsibility accompanying the prospect of deporting 1,400 Iraqis—more than 300 of whom are Chaldean Christians—is perhaps even more complicated than the legal question, says Tudi.
Despite remaining in jail and facing expulsion to a war-torn country he hardly knows, Shaou is hopeful. He believes he has served his time.