There are about 1,400 Iraqi nationals in the United States who could be sent back to Iraq any day now under new Trump Administration policies no matter how long they’ve lived here.
One refugee in Albuquerque has been fearing his time is up in the country, even though he spent years helping the U.S. military during the Iraq War. Immigration authorities have ordered him to report to their offices for removal on Thursday, July 13.
Life didn’t really begin for Kadhim Albumohammed until he left the refugee camp he’d been in for three years, he said, and got to the United States in the mid ’90s. "I got freedom, really freedom, I’m happy with this," he said. "I say I’m born now. I’m born not in 1953. I’m born in 1994."
Then in 2010, an immigration court judge gave him a final order of deportation. But Iraq wasn’t taking people back. So Albumohammed was allowed to stay in the U.S. as long as he checked in with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. This year, Iraq agreed to take deportees in order to avoid being included in the latest version of President Trump’s travel ban.
ICE called Albumohammed in for an appointment out of the blue, and as he was walking up to the door at a field office a couple of weeks ago, he said a woman handed him a small American flag and told him it would protect him. "And I hold that flag since she gave it to me until now," he said. "Even when I am sleeping, I put it under my pillow."
Hundreds turned up to rally around Albumohammed that day, and then ICE canceled that meeting.
But he said if he’s sent to back, he could face persecution, torture or death, because for five years during the second Iraq War, he helped the U.S. military familiarize soldiers with Iraqi culture.
Monique Salhab did two tours in Iraq. She’s one of the Army veterans who benefited from the those kinds of trainings. "That was a big service," she said. "It’s not something that was taken lightly, and individuals like Kadhim, Iraqi nationals like Kadhim, who offered that, who helped American troops, they were seen as traitors, so to speak, in their home countries."
She took the classes mandated for soldiers and got a crash course in cultural norms and helpful phrases to use overseas. "So the idea that he would be willing to do that, and want to do that, knowing the risks," she said, "it dumbfounds me to think that here he is now, and it’s just this like, 'Oh well thanks. Thanks for what you did. But see you later now.' "
ICE said the goal is to deport people who threaten national security and public safety. Since May of this year, ICE has arrested 199 Iraqi nationals and deported eight, according to an emailed statement from the agency.
Agents are focusing on picking up people who have criminal convictions, and Albumohammed has two for misdemeanor domestic violence offenses. He got them more than 20 years ago and says he hasn’t been in any trouble since.
Rebecca Kitson is Albumohammed’s lawyer. "When you speak about issues with broad brushes, and you don’t take into account people’s particularized circumstances, you really miss a lot of the picture," she said.
There are foreign policy considerations, shifting political winds and litigation swirling around Albumohammed, she said. "And of course he has nothing to do with any of those, and in fact, he has no political voice, or power to be able to control any of those forces that are controlling him."
The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Iraqis in the U.S. facing deportation. And a federal judge in Michigan halted the deportations until the issue is reviewed in court. That could mean Albumohammed will spend more time in detention, and he has serious, ongoing health issues.
But seeing the outpouring of support in New Mexico, he says, gives him courage to face whatever comes. "Sometimes, I’m OK. It doesn’t matter what happens to me. When I see you all beside me, it’s OK. Whatever," he said. "Even if I get the death penalty, I’m not going to be afraid anymore."
Albumohammed’s wife and his four kids are U.S. citizens, and he said he wants the chance to finish the job of being a father. He’s hoping ICE will consider this, his military service and his health, and ask the court to re-open his case.
"When you cross the world, you’re dreaming about another life," he said. "Trust me, if you have a good life in your country, you’re not coming."
In the meantime, Albumohammed’s lawyer is asking ICE to reconsider detaining him for now.
People will be gathering to show support at the ICE field offices in Albuquerque on Thursday, July 13, at 8:30 a.m. when Kadhim Albumohammed is scheduled to report for removal.