Iraqi Christians should not be deported to become victims of ISIS

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In 1939, the Cuban government, and then the U.S. government refused entry to hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. They were forced to return to Europe, and many perished in the Holocaust.

The story of the S.S. St. Louis – popularly known as the “voyage of the damned” – remains one of the darkest episodes of the Roosevelt administration. And it should serve as a cautionary tale for the Trump administration today.

It has been eight decades since the United States returned refugees facing genocide to countries where they might perish in it. Now, we are about do so again.

{mosads}As many as 300 Iraqi Christians are slated for deportation to Iraq, some as early as this week. They would return to a country where they face genocide.


Though the circumstances differ somewhat from those in 1939, what our country stands on the cusp of doing is, in many ways, even worse. In 1939, we refused entry to people fleeing Hitler. We did not forcibly return them to Germany. Upon their return to Europe, the passengers went to many countries such as Belgium, France and Britain. Of course, two of those countries subsequently fell to the Nazis, who continued persecuting – and in many cases killing – those who had fled in 1939 and could have had been saved had the United States admitted them.

History has never forgiven us.

In this case, the government has stated that it plans to deport individuals who live in the United States and are members of a tiny religious group facing genocide in their home country.

That Christians face genocide in Iraq at the hands of ISIS has been well documented. Both houses of Congress unanimously declared this last year. So did the secretary of state on March 17, 2016. And so have both the president and the vice president when speaking at prayer breakfasts this year.

God only knows who gave this specific order. Whether it is the “deep state” at work, or a political order, however, the effect remains the same. The American government, for the first time ever, is about to deport to a country undergoing an active genocide the very people targeted in that genocide.

When many of those being threatened with deportation came to America, Iraq had a strong Christian population of 1.5 million. Today, only 200.000 remain, and many of them are living as refugees. We are not returning these Christians to the country they knew, we are returning them to a post-apocalyptic situation in which Christian towns, villages and neighborhoods have been totally destroyed by ISIS.

No one, Christian or otherwise, should be forced to return to a country with an ongoing genocide that targets them specifically. And yes, ISIS is still in Iraq, and yes, it is still killing religious minorities. In fact, it executed almost twenty women from a religious minority just this month.

And ISIS has not been shy about targeting Christians. It has recently referred to us as its “favorite prey,” and urged the destruction of Christianity on the cover of its magazine less than a year ago.

The Trump administration should find a solution that does not include returning people to a country with an ongoing genocide targeting them. It should do this not because the Iraqi Christian community supported the president and was the margin of victory in Michigan. It should do this because it is the right thing to do.

Several months ago, I was one of the few voices that spoke out publicly in support of President Trump’s executive order on immigration. I understand, as I wrote then, how important it is to keep Americans safe.

Having grown up in Iraq, and having come here as a refugee myself, the impulse to protect this country from the kind of violence so prevalent in the land of my birth has long struck a chord with me. It still does.

It also strikes a chord with many in the Iraqi Christian community. Our community knows what happens when terrorists overrun a country. We know what happens when they hate us for our faith and try to exterminate us. Many of us came here to avoid just that.

It is precisely for this reason that I believe the administration must stop the deportation back to Iraq of Christians now living in the United States. We have a duty to keep those in this country safe from terrorism. We have an even greater duty when we know they are the specific targets of that terrorism. 

The world needs American leadership in promoting human rights and combatting terrorism. This deportation would violate every principle of protecting the victims of the genocide, the “crime of crimes.” It would also be a win for ISIS, as we send their “favorite prey” back to them.

Most Rev. Bawai Soro is a bishop of San Diego’s Chaldean Catholic Diocese of St. Peter.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Bawai Soro Christians Iraq ISIS Islamic State Nazi Germany refugees

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