WASHINGTON — Jony Jarjiss came from Iraq to the United States for the love of a woman — 25 years later he’s fighting to stay for the love of his new country.
And, to avoid being killed in his former home.
Jarjiss, who was detained Thursday, is one of several hundred Iraqi nationals fighting desperately to remain in the United States, despite deportation orders that are being fueled by President Donald Trump’s most recent travel ban.
Also this week, a federal judge ruled that the U.S. cannot immediately deport nearly 200 Iraqi nationals who were arrested last month by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The ICE raids were precipitated, indirectly, by the Trump administration’s travel restrictions that bar new visas for people from six predominantly Muslim countries. Iraq was dropped from the list when the president reissued the order in March.
For decades, Iraq has refused to issue paperwork to accept Iraqi nationals whom the United States wanted to deport.
However, in March, Iraq agreed to begin accepting deportees in exchange for being dropped from the list of countries affected by Trump’s revised travel ban.
U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, in Michigan, has ordered the government to keep the Iraqis here while their deportation cases are reviewed by immigration courts.
If the Iraqis were deported now, it would subject them to “substantial risk of death, torture, or other grave persecution before their legal claims can be tested in a court,” Goldsmith’s order reads.
One man’s story
“Jony left Iraq because he was in love with a woman who lived here in the U.S., who grew up with him in his village in Iraq,” said Jarjiss’ lawyer, Edward Bajoka. “He entered the U.S. on a fiance visa, which lets a person stay in the country for 90 days, during which he must get married to his sponsor.”
But that didn’t happen.
“Long story short, the marriage never occurred,” said Bajoka. “He and his fiancee, it just didn’t work out.”
His client, who lives in Saginaw, Michigan, overstayed his three-month visa — in large part because he feared Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
“He was afraid to go back to Iraq because he had deserted the Iraqi army before the first Gulf War,” Bajoka said. “Desertion of the army is punishable by death, and Saddam’s regime would definitely not hesitate to put him to death.”
In 1994, Jarjiss was ordered deported, but remained here because at the time the U.S. had no diplomatic relationship with Iraq.
“Iraq would not accept him back throughout the entire reign of Saddam Hussein, or even after the Saddam regime fell, after the U.S. invasion (of Iraq in 2003),” Bajoka said.
So, Jony Jarjiss has been living the life of an American.
“He works in a grocery store seven days a week, doesn’t make much money, pays his taxes,” said Bajoka. “He barbecues on the 4th of July, celebrates Thanksgiving — he’s an average, everyday, American guy.”
And, once a year he checked-in with immigration officials. But this week, Jarjiss’s American dream turned into a nightmare.
“He reported to ICE with me for his regular check in,” said Bajoka. He said his client was nervous, waiting outside the ICE field office in Detroit.
“They detained him there on the spot, after making us wait six hours.”
Bajoka said Jarjiss was kept in solitary confinement but was transported to a prison in Youngstown, Ohio, on Friday.
“I spoke with him by phone. He’s scared. He’s nervous,” said his attorney. “He told me he feels he might have been better off jumping in the river and trying to make his way across to Canada.”
Since the June roundup, ICE officials have said most of the people arrested and scheduled for deportation have committed a crime, other than being in the United States illegally.
“Jony has never been convicted of any crime whatsoever, in the United States or any other country,” Bajoka said. “Jony is the first person that I’m aware of that has been detained that does not have a criminal history.”
Contacted by WTOP, an ICE spokesman in Detroit said he would research the specifics of Jarjiss’ detention but has not yet said why he was detained.
Jarjiss has a 21-year-old daughter, and a baby grandson, who are both American citizens. In addition, his siblings are all American citizens or permanent residents.
“She’s beside herself at the thought of her father being deported,” said Bajoka, of Jarjiss’ daughter given Iraq’s current climate.
“Anyone who has been in the West, particularly the United States, that’s sent back to Iraq is a target for Shiite militias, for ISIS, for other paramilitary groups that would seek to do harm to Americans,” said the attorney.
“Jony, in particular, is a Christian. He’s a Caldean Catholic,” said Bajoka. “The Caldean Catholic villages were specifically targeted, and taken over, ransacked and looted by ISIS in June 2014.”
“Jony would be a prime target.”
Not giving up
Bajoka said his client, and he, are continuing to fight.
“Thankfully, he cannot be just sent away, right away,” Bajoka said.
With the federal stay in place until July 24, Bajoka plans to file emergency motions in the next few days to get Jarjiss released on bond.
In addition, he will file an emergency motion to reopen Jarjiss’ immigration case, on the grounds that conditions have changed in Iraq. “Because Iraq has certainly changed since the 90s, when he was originally ordered deported.”
“Jony is praying that the United States will prove itself to be the greatest country on Earth, and allow him to stay here with his family.”