After 33 Yrs in Prison, Christian Veteran Seeks Easter Reprieve from Deportation to Iraq

An Iraqi Christian who came to the U.S. at 5 years old and served in the U.S. Army now faces deportation to a country he no longer remembers and where almost certain death awaits him. While he did shoot a police officer in an attempted armed robbery, he served over 30 years in prison for that offense. When his term finally ended, he was detained for deportation.

"It's inhumane, unjust, and irresponsible to deport a Christian and U.S. Army veteran to a war-torn country where ISIS is committing Christian genocide," Tiara Shaya, niece of Nahidh Shaou, told PJ Media in an email statement. "This is not just a deportation. It's a death sentence."

Shaou's story is truly tragic. He grew up in the U.S. and enlisted in the military at age 17. He served between 1979 and 1981, spending time in the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). In 2006, he was awarded the Veterans of Foreign Wars medal. His niece explained that the Carter administration attempted to keep its actions in Korea silent at the time, so Shaou was awarded decades later for his service in the DMZ.

While Shaou was serving his country overseas, his father passed away. When he came home after his father's death, his mother contracted breast cancer, so he had to work to support his family. All this time, he suffered from depression, guilt, anxiety, and PTSD, according to his family.

"My uncle is the definition of a patriot," Shaya told PJ Media. "He served this country when he wasn't even a citizen. He is an American by every standard except paperwork. He's been here since he was five and doesn't even remember Iraq."

The niece added that Shaou's "father didn't want him to join the Army, but my uncle insisted and felt very strongly that he had a duty to serve his country. When my uncle left Korea to come home for his father's funeral, he felt he had abandoned his comrades and still feels that way."

According to The Detroit News, Shaou said he tried to become a citizen when he enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1980 at age 17, but the process took time and was interrupted when he went to serve in South Korea for six months. When he was discharged from the Army, he went to Detroit to resume the process, but the proceedings were terminated after he was charged with armed robbery with intent to murder in 1983.

Shaou recalled the crime in an interview with The Detroit News. At a McDonald's after a long day of work, he went to go to the bathroom, but the person behind the counter questioned why he hadn't ordered his meal first. He wanted to teach the worker a lesson.

He reportedly pulled out his gun and told them to give him the money from the register. Shaou said he remembers walking outside with the money, and that he saw a uniform and a weapon — when a policeman reportedly stopped him.

"I believe my uncle when he says he was blacked out during the crime," Shaya told PJ Media. "He was really affected from his PTSD and depression from being deployed to Korea, his father dying while he was serving overseas, and his mother getting breast cancer shortly after."

"Going to prison was what I expected," Shaou told The Detroit News. "I accepted it. I deserved it. I did something to someone who didn't deserve it. Thankfully, he survived."

The veteran said that across the 16 prisons he spent time in, he earned several degrees and certificates, worked on helping his fellow inmates, and always held a job.

"My uncle received his welding certificate during his time," Shaya, the niece, recalled. "He would send me scaled sketches of things he would build for me when he came home."

In a personal touch, she shared stories about their mutual love for astronomy. "We kept track of the best times to view the planets, lunar eclipses, comets, etc. It's been our dream to see the Aurora Borealis together."

Shaya called her uncle a "model inmate" and said he kept up with the news while in prison. "My uncle is one of my biggest supporters. He's always encouraged me in my work and my studies. Through this deportation process, he choked up and said, 'I'm damn proud of how you turned out.'"

According to Shaya, Shaou served 33 years, 11 months, and 1 day in prison. (The Detroit News said 33 years, six months, and 21 days.) Rather than being released in September, when his sentence ended, he was held in a county jail in Michigan by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

ICE transferred Shaou to LaSalle Detention Facility in Louisiana on April 10, and his deportation is set for this coming Monday.

For years, Iraq has not accepted deportees from the U.S. without travel documents in an effort to secure its border against terrorists from groups like the Islamic State (ISIS), according to Eman Jajonie-Daman, an immigration attorney in Michigan. Jajonie-Daman told The Detroit News that many Iraqis came to the U.S. when they were young and lack the documents to prove they were born in the country.

But Julius Clinton, a detention and deportation officer at ICE in Washington, D.C., told the outlet that a new policy was recently negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq. "As a result of these negotiations... ERO has received approval from the Iraqi government to return a number of Iraqi nationals ordered removed from the United States," Clinton explained. "The first group of removals are scheduled for April 2017."

As Shaya noted, the Islamic State (ISIS) has targeted Christians and other religious minorities for death, and in March of last year, Secretary of State John Kerry officially declared ISIS's genocide against Christians.

Joseph Kassab, founder and president of the Iraqi Christians Advocacy and Empowerment Institute, told The Detroit News it is inhumane to send Iraqi Christians back to their native country. "The U.S. accepts religious minorities from Iraq under heavy religious persecution as refugees, and now we are sending Christians back to Iraq to be killed?" Kassab asked. "We are sending them to their death sentence."

Tina Ramirez, a co-founder and director of the bipartisan Congressional International Religious Freedom Caucus and founder and executive director of Hardwired, told PJ Media that Shaou can claim refugee status thrice over. He can claim "eligibility due to his ethnic group, his religious group, and his political affiliation."

Shaou is a Christian, but he is specifically a Chaldean Christian, a member of an ethnic and religious group that traces its roots back to the very first Christians in Iraq. As a former member of the United States military, he would also face threats due to his political affiliation with the U.S.

Ramirez argued that a few people can stop Shaou's deportation. The president, or even his congressman, can grant Shaou "humanitarian parole."

Indeed, the ex-convict's family launched a Change.org petition specifically requesting that Michigan state representatives and senators stop Shaou's deportation. As of early Sunday morning, the petition had 705 signers.

"We plead on his behalf to STOP the deportation of US Army Veteran Nahidh Shaou to Baghdad. Please help protect Iraqi Christians and don't let Nahidh be deported into the hands of ISIS," the petition reads.

"My uncle is a Republican and, ironically, rooted for Trump," Shaya, the veteran's niece, told PJ Media. "Much of the Chaldean community supported Trump, but are now feeling that his promises to take care of persecuted Christians are empty."

She recalled that Shaou's lawyer called the ex-convict "the model of an inmate that has been reformed." The lawyer added, "I've worked with many criminals before and I know a bad guy when I see one. Your uncle is not a bad guy."

Shaya admitted, "My uncle committed a serious crime that hurt a police officer, someone who, like my uncle, also defended the country. But, I fundamentally believe people have the ability to change, and my uncle is not the same person he was 34 years ago."

But her uncle is not alone.

"There are thousands of Iraqi Christians who are waiting to meet their executioner," Shaou himself told The Detroit News. "We are not a disposable group of people in this country. I feel totally betrayed. We didn't come here and get on welfare, we contributed to the fabric that made this country."

"We still have value, just as any other ex-con has value. This is not what America stands for," Shaou declared.

Trump may wish to show his commitment to keeping America safe by deporting ex-convicts like Shaou. But does a man who cannot remember Iraq, who was a "model inmate" for almost 34 years, and who served with distinction in the U.S. Army really deserve this deportation death sentence?

Mr. Trump, do not deport Nahidh Shaou. Today is Easter, a time when we remember Jesus' mercy toward sinners and His resurrection from the dead. Show an Easter mercy to this decorated veteran and reformed ex-convict.