Standing in the small chapel at Our Lady of Perpetual Help on a crisp April morning, it would be easy to exoticize the Iraqi worshipers, gathered for Monday Mass and tethered to ancient roots. The lingering aroma of incense clings to the thick carpet and dark upholstery of the Chaldean Catholic church in suburban Detroit. The ornate icons, candles, and rosaries evoke a more gilded era of Catholicism. Chanting in Arabic, some of the women gently sway under delicate white lace veils.
It doesn’t look like a community on the brink of being torn apart.
When news broke in the summer of 2017 that the US government planned to deport 1,400 Iraqis, it sounded at a national level like yet another immigration story. Mostly men with felony records, the group had been living under “final orders of removal”: a judicial sentence deferred for 5, 10, 20, and even 30 years in some cases because of continuing instability in Iraq.
But a closer look at one of the largest concentrations of Iraqi American Christians, Detroit’s Chaldean community, reveals a portrait of a people whose past and future are deeply interwoven with colliding interests and cultures. It is, in short, a more American story.
It also illustrates how the near-universal sympathy of American Christians for the persecuted church abroad clashes with their divided political views back home. And not just views on immigration policies. The Chaldean Christians’ presence in the United States, their experience here, and the threat of their forced return to Iraq—something many of them consider a death sentence—are inseparable from America’s foreign policy, criminal justice system, and economic inequities.
In the aftermath ...1