Members and supporters of the Kurdish community in Nashville, Tennessee, demonstrate for equality. Photo: AMA
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region – Due to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration, many in the Kurdish community in the United States have reported nighttime raids and road and workplace harassment by ICE agents and fear deportation from what has become their home. The Kurdish diplomatic mission in Washington says they have relayed their concerns to the US government.
“This is happening in the middle of the night”, Drost Kokoye, a board member of the American Muslim Advisory Council (AMAC) told Rudaw English on Friday. "One brother was picked up from his house by ICE agents who walked through his open front door without a warrant or even a warning, and now he is sitting in a detention center in Alabama.”
Nashville, a city of about 700,000 in Tennessee, is affectionately known as “Little Kurdistan, USA” because of the settlement of some 12,000 Kurds since the 1990s and the geography of its surrounding mountainous terrain.
"We tie the recent harassment of Kurdish and Iraqi peoples to the Muslim ban,” Kokoye said, referring to Trump's executive order barring entry into the United States for nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries including Iraq. The order has since been overturned in US federal court. The initial order has since been rewritten with language aimed at domestic enforcement of immigration law. Iraq is omitted from the most recent executive order, which still affects the other six countries.
She says in the Kurdish Nashville community since Monday, there have been roughly 30 cases of federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials “targeting people in the middle of the night” in their homes, following people in their cars, and checking up on them in their workplaces “without search warrants”. Six people have already been detained.
Kokoye says she understands that some Kurds have old criminal records, and not everyone in the community are citizens. "The majority were brought here as refugees. Most are from families who are all already naturalized citizens, most were on the track for citizenship. It's not a criminal issue.”
"ICE is digging up people they have requested removal visas for in the past,” Kokoye explained. “ICE had asked Iraq for removal visas for some of these people 8, 10, or even 12 years ago. Since then, they had already been cleared of any wrongdoing [under the former administration of Barack Obama] and paid any of their debts to society, whether jail time or court fines. It should have been done and finished.”
Kokoye led a press conference in front of the mayor's office in downtown Nashville within eye shot of ICE's local holding center on Friday.
The native of Halabja immigrated to the United States in 1996 and says Kurdish leaders in Nashville have good relations with local, state and US congressmen and senators, but ICE did not contact local organizations such as the Salahadeen Center of Nashville prior to its raids.
“If the United States is a country of laws, we expect the administration that exists in this country to abide by those laws in the same ways they expect the citizens to abide by those laws,” Kokoye said.
She called on local officials and congressmen including US Senators Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander to stand up to Trump's executive branch.
AMAC advises all who believe they have been targeted by ICE or have questions to seek legal counsel.
The Kurdish diplomatic mission in Washington DC said in a statement in Kurdish on Friday that they have spoken with the US state department on the deportation threats facing some members of the Kurdish community.
“We at the representation of the Kurdistan Regional Government have relayed our concerns to the US state department about the forceful deportation of those people,” read the statement. “Especially as we hear that they will be deported to Baghdad where some of them have no relative or family whatsoever and speak no Arabic.”
“The American side has told us that it is a legal matter and their detention and deportation has been done after legal investigations and by court orders,” read the statement.
The process for citizenship in the United States varies based on residency, occupation and other factors such as spousal or familial sponsorship. Those who have established permanent residency in the United States for five years become eligible to apply for naturalization, which then can take a year or more.
Clarifications: In the second paragraph, it was added that most of the people targeted have been in the US for 20 years, while in the second paragraph eighth paragraph Kokoye's quote was referring to period of time since had faced charges, not how long they have been in the United States. The third paragraph regarding a Kurd already being sent to Baghdad was factually incorrect at the time of publication. The seventh paragraph incorrectly paraphrased Kokoye — none of the cases we've had so far have been people without papers.