Chaledean Christians, Who Helped Bring Trump Victory, Now Face Deportation

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we said, we’re in Detroit this weekend, where we are reflecting on the 1967 riots. Later, we will hear vivid recollections of the racial tensions that fueled the unrest. But it’s important to remember that Detroit isn’t just a black and white town. Many immigrants from all over the world have found their way here, and among them are Chaldean Christians of Iraqi descent. Now, that group is in the news because of a Trump administration push to deport some 1,400 Iraqi nationals from around the country, including more than a hundred people from the Detroit area. These are individuals who had been ordered deported because of various criminal offenses, but they’ve been allowed to remain to this point because of fears that they will be persecuted if they go back to Iraq.

One of the ironies here is that support from Chaldean Christians are among the factors that led to Donald Trump’s surprising victory in Michigan last year. Joining us to talk more about this is Michigan State Representative Klint Kesto. Mr. Kesto is believed to be the first member of the Chaldean community elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. We actually caught up with him in Denver. Representative Kesto, thank you so much for speaking with us.

KLINT KESTO: Oh, thank you.

MARTIN: Can you just start by telling us a little bit of history? How did many people from the county and community end up in metro Detroit?

KESTO: Well, going back to – I’ll say the early 1900s, maybe 1910, around that time, 1915, one of the first couple of Chaldean community members came to Detroit. And they came because of the auto industry and getting work. But later, many of them came during the ’70s and ’80s. They fled from Iraq because of a predominantly Muslim country and them being a minority. Certain prosecutions and other political motivations led them to Detroit. And they came to Detroit because of their family that were here.

MARTIN: Let me make sure I understand this correctly, that most of the people who were detained came here legally, but then they committed some sort of crime. They’ve been ordered deported, but those deportations had been stayed because, as we said earlier, of the concern that they would be persecuted if they went back to Iraq. What’s your argument as to why they should not go back now?

KESTO: If you send them back to this country where there is constant persecution of Christians – now, granted, they did commit a wrong. They did commit a crime. Yes, we understand. But how can you send them back to their death? That’s the real question.

MARTIN: So as I understand it, you are among the people credited with delivering Michigan to Donald Trump during the election. Do you agree with that characterization?

KESTO: I do agree with that. I encouraged many to go out and vote. And many of them did go out and vote, and they voted for Donald Trump.

MARTIN: So does the administration’s effort now to deport these 1,400 people, as we said, about at least a hundred of whom are from the metro Detroit area, has that changed your feelings about President Trump? And has that changed the other people’s feelings about Donald Trump in any way?

KESTO: My feelings have not changed. I still support the president. I support his efforts. And I will continue to do so because I believe in the conservative policy. Others in the Chaldean community I believe feel, you know, taken aback and maybe because they have direct family members that are going to be deported.

MARTIN: I wonder if they are deported. What – how do you think you’re going to feel about that?

KESTO: Well, I would work to make sure that they are safe. Whatever I can do within my power and my authority, I’ll work to make sure that they are safe if they go to that country.

MARTIN: That’s Klint Kesto. He’s a state representative from Michigan. He’s a Republican. He’s also believed to be the first member of the Chaldean community elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. We actually caught up with him in Denver, where he’s attending a conference. Representative Kesto, thanks so much for speaking with us.

KESTO: Thank you, Michel. God bless you and your listeners. You have a wonderful day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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