WHEN REBWAR HASSAN WALKED OUT of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention facility in Georgia on December 16, his 4-year-old daughter’s elated giggles quickly turned to sobs. She ran to him, and they embraced for the first time in 18 months.
A few days later, Basam Petros waited at a 7-Eleven near his home in New Baltimore, Michigan. His 10-year-old daughter thought that she and her mother were meeting a family friend. When she spotted her dad from across the parking lot, she darted to him, and buried her face in his big yellow T-shirt.
Later that week, in nearby Shelby Charter Township, Hadeel Khalasawi disguised himself as Santa Claus and sat in his living room. His 7- and 8-year-old sons—who, for the second year in a row, insisted that all they wanted for Christmas was to spend the holiday with their dad—weren’t sure what was going on. Then Khalasawi took off his hat and beard. “Where were you?” his youngest asked through tears and a dogpile of hugs. “Habibi,” Khalasawi replied, “never gonna let you guys go again.”
Hassan, Petros, and Khalasawi are a few of the roughly 350 Iraqi Americans who spent months—in many cases well over a year—locked up in ICE facilities. Since being apprehended in raids beginning in the summer of 2017, they have endured a grueling saga of incarceration and legal precarity.
Since targeting Iraqis—many of whom have lived nearly their entire lives in the United States—ICE has embarked on a deportation campaign involving coercion, “demonstrably false” federal-court declarations, and outright lies. As a result, hundreds of parents, siblings, breadwinners, and caregivers have languished behind bars. And now, with legal battles threatening their right to have their cases reviewed, their futures are once again in limbo.