View Full Version : Pleas that Trump deport Iraqi Christians to safer country go unmet

08-25-2019, 03:51 PM

Long before Jimmy Aldaoud died in Baghdad, an activist trying to stop President Donald Trump from deporting Christians like Aldaoud to Iraq hit on an idea: What if the U.S. could deport them to a different, safer country?

Steve Oshana raised the suggestion with several people in the Trump administration, pointing out that Christians face discrimination and persecution in Iraq. He offered up his preferred alternative: Christian-majority Armenia, whose officials had signaled to him they’d be willing to consider taking the deportees.

But the idea got nowhere, even though he ran it by White House advisers, State Department officials and figures in the Department of Homeland Security. Oshana was still pushing the option when word came earlier this month that Aldaoud had died. The 41-year-old Michigan resident had been sent to Iraq in June despite speaking no Arabic and having spent nearly his entire life in the United States. He is thought to have died because he couldn’t get the insulin he needed for his diabetes.

“I feel so guilty about what happened to Jimmy,” said Oshana, executive director of the Christian advocacy group A Demand for Action. “I don’t know if we could have done anything more looking back at all this, but it’s hard not to kick yourself wondering if anything else was possible.”

Oshana’s experience offers a glimpse into Trump’s hard-line stance on deportations — people who in the past were deemed relatively low priorities to deport are being removed from the U.S. It also reveals how hard it is for even well-connected advocates to navigate the system amid the crackdown.

Oshana still wants the Trump administration to consider the third-country option for the hundreds of other Christians in the U.S. facing deportation to Iraq. He expects it will be a struggle.

“The biggest impediment is the administration not making the request to another country and not even being willing to discuss it with us in a meaningful way,” Oshana said. “When we make an inquiry, it goes nowhere.”

The State Department and the White House would not say whether the administration was or has ever seriously considered the third-country option for Iraqi nationals facing deportation. They referred requests for comment on this report to the Department of Homeland Security.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS division that carries out deportations, did not directly answer a question about the third-country option. It noted in a statement that “federal immigration law provides robust procedures for aliens to challenge their removal from the United States before an immigration judge.”

Emails, texts and other documents seen by POLITICO show Oshana reached out to several Trump administration officials in 2017 to discuss the third-country idea. "I would love to speak with you about this," Oshana wrote to one official. "Their deportation appears to be imminent and I want to make sure they are not dumped in Baghdad where they are almost certainly going to be harmed."

Within the White House, Oshana approached Garry Hall, then a senior National Security Council official, and Victoria Coates, another NSC official who now deals with Middle East issues. He also spoke to Barbara Gonzalez, an ICE official, according to notes from the session. None would offer comment for this report. Oshana said he also raised the idea to administration officials focused on religious freedom issues, hoping they’d lend a sympathetic ear.

In June 2017, Oshana and fellow activists scored a meeting with NSC officials, including Hall, and they used the get-together to bring up the third-country option.

Oshana said he also had been discussing the possibility with various officials from Armenia at the time. The country, which has a population of around 3 million people, is relatively poor, but it has a history of accepting vulnerable Christian refugees.