Over the past several days the US Department of Homeland Security has targeted and arrested dozens of Chaldean immigrants in Michigan.
The detained Chaldeans are now subject to deportation to Iraq or Syria, countries where Christians are actively persecuted by the Islamic State (ISIS) and other Muslim groups. According to the ICE, the individuals arrested have criminal records and that Iraq has agreed to take them back—a move which Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (a Chaldean Catholic) believes “represents a death sentence.”
In an official statement on the matter, Bishop Francis Kalabat, the head of the Chaldean Catholic Eparchy of St. Thomas the Apostle in Detroit, stated the following:
Yesterday was a very strange and painful day for our community in America. With the many Chaldeans that were awakened by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and consequently picked up for deportation, there is a lot of confusion and anger."
Bishop Kalabat also stressed that while the “Church does not oppose justice” and that “hardened criminals that are a danger to society should be picked up,” the truth is that “[m]any who were picked up [by the ICE] are not hardened criminals but for the last decades have been great citizens.” Kalabat also believes that the ICE’s actions goes against an anti-genocide bill recently passed by Congress and urged his flock to not protest the government’s action in a disrespectful manner.
As several news agencies have detailed, many of the individuals arrested by the ICE have already paid their debt to society for any past crimes committed. Moreover, it is contrary to fundamental norms of justice to punish people for the same offense twice. While the Chaldeans arrested do not enjoy the full rights and privileges that come with U.S. citizenship, the practical reality is that their potential deportation places them at great personal risk while Islamist violence continues to rage in the Middle East.
The Chaldean Catholic Church represents an ancient Christian lineage dating back to Apostolic times. According to tradition, Christianity was first brought to the Assyrian (including Chaldean) people by Ss. Thomas the Apostle, Thaddeus of Edessa, and Bartholomew the Apostle. To this day, the Chaldean Catholic Church retains the use of Syriac in its liturgy and uses its own form of the East Syriac Rite.
As detailed in an exclusive interview with a Chaldean Catholic cleric in the May/June issue of The Angelus, the situation of the Chaldean Catholic Church in the Middle East remains dire. Formed out of a schism with the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Church first reestablished ties with the Holy See in 1552-53 after more than a millennium of being out of communion. Though internal strife brought about temporary periods of separation over the subsequent decades, the Chaldean Church has maintained unbroken communion with Rome since 1830. Sorrowfully, this joyful reunion and expansion of the Chaldean Church was soon followed by renewed persecution at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, with up to 300,000 Assyrian, Syriac, and Chaldean Christians perishing from the violence.
Although the Chaldean Catholic Church boasts over 600,000 members, many now live outside of Iraq and Syria due to the intense Islamic persecution in the region. Since the rise of ISIS, thousands of Chaldean Catholics have been subject to rape, torture, and execution for their refusal to renounce Christ. While some fear that Chaldean Christianity faces extinction in the Middle East, it can be hoped that God will lead His people, who have endured so much for refusing to abandon the Faith, back to their ancient homeland. Until then, prayers should be offered for the Chaldean Catholic Church and may Ss. Thomas, Thaddeus, and Bartholomew continue to protect the Chaldean flock from the ravages of Islam.