Iraqi Christian community that supported Trump angry over threats of deportation

Iraqi Christians face deportation

Last Updated Jul 25, 2017 12:08 AM EDT

DETROIT -- The Chaldean Catholics of Detroit have a culture that mixes the modern with the very, very old. Their people hail from the biblical city of Nineveh, mentioned in the Book of Genesis, in what is now Iraq. And last November, their community voted overwhelmingly for then-candidate Donald Trump because of his promise to protect Christians from persecution in the mostly Muslim Middle East.

"Our Christian heritage will be cherished, protected, defended like you've never seen before," Mr. Trump said on the campaign trail.

So it came as a shock last month when 114 local Chaldean Catholics were arrested by immigration authorities and placed in detention camps for deportation to Iraq.

Wisam Naoum CBS News

"There is a lot of anger in the community right now," said Wisam Naoum, a community activist. "You've got a community that's between 150,000 to 200,000 folks strong. They vote Republican and they came out strong for Mr. Trump."

The federal government says those arrested pose a real public safety threat. But the American Civil Liberties Union and CODE Legal Aid have filed a class action lawsuit against the roundup.

On Monday, a federal judge in Detroit issued a new ruling that indefinitely stops the deportation of more than 1,400 Iraqis -- many of them Christian -- who say they fear physical harm if they leave the U.S. The lawsuit asked that the Iraqis be allowed to stay in the U.S. and try to convince immigration courts to overturn deportations based on the risk they face in their home country, CBS News justice reporter Paula Reid reports.  

To be clear, the 114 Christians arrested had committed crimes, but mostly non-violent ones. They've had orders of removal pending for years, but the threat of persecution in Iraq had always halted their departure.

But this spring, to get off the Trump travel ban list, Iraq agreed to take those deportees, including the Chaldeans.

"We're just pawns in a larger game. They wanted to get off that ban list. They've got their priorities and we're not a priority," Naoum said.

Nor, apparently, is Mirvat Bahoura. She has a rare, possibly fatal blood disease, and the one acceptable blood donor for her is her uncle, Gus Kassab. But he's now ticketed for deportation.

Mirvat Bahoura, left, with her uncle, Gus Kassab, center. Mirvat Bahoura

"I'm on pins and needles every day," Bahoura said. "I just wanna hear some news to see if they're gonna release them or not."

As they have for centuries, the Chaldeans now pray for salvation from their enemies, including, they say, the President of the United States.

  • Dean Reynolds
    Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.