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Hundreds of Iraqis in the United States are in limbo and have been for years. The U.S. tried to deport them after they committed crimes, but Iraq wouldn't take them back. Now some of them are headed back. The change resulted from negotiations related to President Trump's latest travel ban. Michigan Radio's Sarah Hulett reports.
SARAH HULETT, BYLINE: I'm at the home of Kam and Caroline, outside Detroit. Kam has made black tea, and his daughter just baked pumpkin muffins - her specialty.
CAROLINE: Can you say goodbye?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: Bye.
HULETT: Caroline shoos their three kids out the door. She doesn't want them to hear what we're about to discuss.
CAROLINE: The kids are - I don't - I'm just - the kids don't have any idea about what's going on.
HULETT: What's going on is that Kam could soon be deported now that Iraq has agreed to start accepting its citizens the U.S. wants to deport. We're not using the family's last name because they're worried that speaking out could harm his case. In 2011, he was convicted on a felony marijuana delivery charge. It was a deportable offense. But Iraq refused to issue him a passport. So he got back to his life after serving a six-month sentence in immigration detention, running the collision shop he owns, raising his kids, checking in annually with federal immigration agents. Then he got a call from his lawyer...
KAM: Saying that so-called Iraqi government made some kind of deal far as lifting the travel ban in Iraq.
HULETT: As part of that deal between Iraq and the U.S., Iraq got dropped from the list of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the U.S. Kam's sister, Sarah, is sitting on a sofa across from her brother. She is terrified he would be targeted as an ethnic minority and because she was an interpreter for the U.S. government.
SARAH: I rather they just execute him here then we can know, OK, he's dead than just send him back there nobody knows what would happen.
HULETT: Kam's family was part of a big wave of refugees who resettled here during the first Gulf War. They were among the 175,000 Iraqis who live in Michigan. Kam is Kurdish, but the vast majority of Iraqis in Michigan are ethnic Chaldean Catholics. Martin Manna is head of the Chaldean Community Foundation.
MARTIN MANNA: Sending them back would be a death sentence for them.
HULETT: Manna estimates about 300 Chaldeans are at risk of deportation just in Michigan. Manna says people who have done their time for nonviolent crimes should not be sent to a war zone where they have no family and where their faith makes them a target.
MANNA: This is a community that probably overwhelmingly supported President Trump here in McComb County and other parts of Michigan because they were so frustrated with the previous policies of the way Christians were being treated under the Obama administration.
HULETT: But others credit Trump with quick progress on an issue that previous administrations had simply failed to fix. Jessica Vaughan is with the Center for Immigration Studies. She says all the Iraqis under deportation orders had an opportunity in immigration court to make the case that they should be allowed to stay in the U.S.
JESSICA VAUGHAN: And, you know, if they cannot do that, then they really should be returned home or be given the opportunity to be returned to another country.
HULETT: It's not clear how quickly the U.S. will move on the deportations. Immigration and Customs Enforcement would only confirm that the first flight leaves in April. The uncertainty makes for a lot of anxiety for people headed to their regular check-ins with ICE.
Kam, the Kurdish Iraqi we heard from earlier, and his wife Caroline don't know what they'll tell the kids this time.
CAROLINE: Do I bring them to the appointment so that he can say goodbye or do I...
CAROLINE: Or do I just keep pretending nothing's happening, and then they don't get to say goodbye?
HULETT: They only have a few days to figure it out. Kam's appointment is next Tuesday. For NPR News, I'm Sarah Hulett.
(SOUNDBITE OF LITTLE PEOPLE SONG, "START SHOOTIN'")
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