Ten years ago, police caught Iraqi Chaldean immigrant Rani Yousuf with a small amount of marijuana. He completed probation, paid fines, and the conviction was dropped from his record when he turned 21.
Still, earlier this year, Yousuf found his car surrounded by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) officers who arrested him again over the charge. He sat for months in a Michigan county jail facing the prospect of deportation to Iraq, a country he left at four years old. He has no family there, doesn’t speak Arabic, and is part of a religious minority targeted by extremists.
“As a Catholic who has tattoos of crosses, and Iraq being a Muslim country – they probably would kill me,” he said.
Yousuf is one of over 1,400 Iraqi nationals who the Trump administration is attempting to deport. Most of those are Chaldean – Iraqi Catholics – living in metro Detroit, which holds the world’s largest Chaldean population outside of Iraq.
The administration’s deportation efforts are viewed by many Chaldeans as a shocking “betrayal”, not least because many in the community have been enthusiastic supporters of Trump and voted for him in large numbers in 2016.
The generally conservative community with between 70,000 and 80,000 voters went big for Trump in the 2016 election in a state that he won by only 10,000 votes. They did so after Trump portrayed himself as a “savior” who would stand up for persecuted Christians. “Chaldeans For Trump” signs appeared at Trump rallies and in lawns in Oakland county, a wealthy metro Detroit area where the community is concentrated.
But just months into the Trump administration, Ice swept up 350 Chaldean men and Iraqi nationals. Now, some Chaldeans hold signs at protests reminding Trump “You vowed to protect us”.
“Some people thought ‘Here comes Trump who’s talking a good game about Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted,’” said Edward Bojoka, a Chaldean immigration attorney. “A lot of people in the Chaldean community jumped on that and said, ‘Oh, he’s on our side’, and … some people feel like they were conned.”
But while there’s unanimous disappointment in the administration’s plan to deport Chaldeans, some Chaldean leaders say they still view Trump as a “friend”.