April 4, 2008
Christians fleeing Iraq; few entering U.S.
Soberly, a native son fights their cases in immigration court
There have been long histories of discrimination in the United States against gays and Jews and other non-heterosexual WASPs, and I don't think it is too difficult for Americans to imagine gays in Iraq and Jews in Baghdad living under the hammer. But Christians?
Just like in the Palestinian territories, Christians in Iraq continue to see their situation get worse. The LA Times touches on their plight in a Column One about Robert DeKelaita, an Iraqi-born attorney handling asylum cases in American immigration court.
Repressed under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Christian population has been decimated since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Muslim extremists have murdered priests and burned churches and Christian-owned shops and homes. Priests in Iraq estimate that fewer than 500,000 Christians remain, about a third of the number as before 2003.
On March 13, the body of the archbishop of Mosul, Paulos Faraj Rahho, was recovered, two weeks after he was kidnapped while leaving Mass. The slaying prompted Iraqi Christians to consider worshiping in secret; church services have also been attacked. Christian leaders say some Christians have been abducted and killed after refusing to convert to Islam.
"No group was happier than Christians when Saddam fell," DeKelaita said. "But no group is more disappointed with the way things played out."
Anguished over mistreatment of Iraqi Christian family members and strangers, DeKelaita long ago decided to dedicate his law practice to defending them. He is among a handful of immigration lawyers nationwide who specialize in representing Iraqi Christians, though he represents other clients.
"I know their pain; I feel it," he said of Iraqi Christians. "These are my people. I don't even have to ask them what they've been through."
Each Christian released from federal custody is a blessing, he said. But for the most part, "I deal in misery, unfortunately."
Frankly, I've never understood why we don't take more Iraqi refugees in. I mean, we unleashed this hornet's nest when we deposed that despot Saddam. Seems like we should take care of those endangered by the aftermath, whether because they are ethnic minorities or because they've decided to work for the U.S. military or contractors. An assistant secretary of State gave this explanation to USA Today:
The United States has been unable to accept more Iraqis in part because of the time needed for background checks, which have become more stringent since 9/11.
To me it seems like a moral imperative that 10 years from now we will look back on critically, just like our response to Saddam while he was cleansing the Kurds.
Last fall, I put the question of what the U.S. should do to Bruce Einhorn, a recently retired immigration judge who is the "house Bolshevik" at Pepperdine, handled the L.A. 8 case and wrote an article about the refugees called "Freed to Flee."
"I find it appalling that having perhaps inadvertantly caused the refugee crisis in Iraq we have essentially pretended it doesn't exist. Clearly we overthrew a vicious, genocidal brute in Saddam Hussein. On the other hand, our occupation of Iraq after his overthrow has been a complete fiasco. Whatever terrorist organizations that didn't exist in Iraq do now, largely in resistance to us. And ordinary citizens are running for their lives," Einhorn told me.
"If the United States intervenes in a nation's affairs, ostensibly to restore or create human rights for the population, then it seems to me our government has assumed the burden of protecting those who become the targets of persecution as an inadvertent result of our involvement."
This article was cross-posted at The God Blog.