"Hardened criminals" make up a "very small percentage" of the detainees, he insisted.
The Knights of Columbus have written Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly on the matter, and several members of Congress – Reps. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.), and John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) -- wrote Secretary Kelly as well.
The detainees "will be placed in great danger if deported to Iraq," they insisted, noting that the State Department declared in 2016 that Christians in Iraq and Syria faced genocide at the hands of the Islamic State. They continue to be threatened by the Islamic State and other terror groups.
"Because of the horrors perpetrated against the Catholic Chaldean population in Iraq, these individuals could be stranded in a country in which they are subject to extreme jeopardy," the letter said.
Furthermore, many of the detainees may have no families or connections in Iraq given how long they have lived in the U.S., the members wrote.
"Until we in Congress can review all aspects of the agreement reached with Iraq, and the referenced safety measures, we urge you to hold off removal of these individuals to Iraq," the members stated.
Detainees must not be deported without due process, Manna insisted, saying that sending them back to a country with an active war zone like Iraq is inhumane.
"The law is really on their side," he said of the detainees, who have had clean records for at least ten years. They served their time in prison and "paid their debt" to society, he said, and should not be deported without due process as federal judges had ruled long ago they could be removed.
Furthermore, sending these detainees back to Iraq while it is an active war zone could violate the International Convention Against Torture, he added.
"The U.S. also bears responsibility" to rectify the problem, he told CNA, as the American-led 2003 invasion of Iraq precipitated a massive exodus in Christians from the country, from a population of 1.5 million in 2003 to under 300,000 now.
"The administration has committed itself to helping Christians," Bishop Kalabat said, but if Christians who committed crimes decades ago and have "turned the corner" are being deported, "it doesn't make sense."
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Yet God suffers with his people, he continued.
"This, to me, is the greater tragedy, when we forget about giving of our lives to God and allowing God to be with us, and allowing God to speak to us, to be hurt with us."
Matt Hadro was the political editor at Catholic News Agency through October 2021. He previously worked as CNA senior D.C. correspondent and as a press secretary for U.S. Congressman Chris Smith.