YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Family members are planning a vigil Wednesday for Catholic refugees from Iraq that came to Youngstown to be imprisoned.
The Chaldean immigrants were arrested in Detroit on Sunday and arrived at the Northeast Ohio Correctional Center in Youngstown on Monday. The vigil will take place outside of the prison.
Maron Yousif — who came to the U.S. when he was 3 years old — is also a Chaldean Catholic refugee but is now a citizen.
He said he’s one of what he estimates are 250,000 Chaldean immigrants in the Detroit metro area — the largest concentration of Chaldeans in the U.S.
Most of the detainees came here as children and many don’t speak Arabic, according to Yousif. He said every single one of the Iraqi detainees is a member of the Chaldean community— a Catholic. They’re refugees who fled Iraq for fear of death.
“None of them came here illegally. They have been paying taxes to this country legally, a lot of them are store owners and business owners, they have been working. They cleaned up their life, got married, had children.”
The difference between Yousif and the men taken on Sunday during immigration raids — including his own cousin — is that the detainees are all convicted felons.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) released the following statement to WKBN:
The agency recently arrested a number of Iraqi nationals, all of whom had criminal convictions for crimes including homicide, rape, aggravated assault, kidnapping, burglary, drug trafficking, robbery, sex assault, weapons violations, and other offenses.”
Yousif said some of their crimes date back as far back as 50 years. He said they have all served their time for the crimes.
He said fighting deportation is a matter of life and death.
“We’re being beheaded. We’re being slaughtered, raped, and beaten, and sold as sex slaves, and married off. We’re being tortured. Emptied limb by limb til there’s nothing left over there.”
His family was together Sunday when his cousin was taken.
“They just took him, threw him in a van, and drove off,” he said. “They didn’t tell us where he was being held, they didn’t tell us what we could do.”
There’s talk the detained men will be taken to Iraq’s neighbor- Kurdistan.
“I believe they may deport him as well,” Yousif said. “And if he does go back to Iraq or Kurdistan, or wherever they want to send him, I will have to throw a funeral.”
It’s not a place to return to, Yousif says, because ISIS kill people who are in any way associated with Christianity.
“It’s really… nobody goes there. We don’t go there. That’s not our country anymore. The United States of America is our country,” he said.
Family members are planning to gather at 2 p.m. Wednesday. Yousif said there could be one person or 500.