The long road to freedom for Salman Saiyad

Salman Saiyad is an Iraqi Christian who went to the USA as a teenager but changes in the US Governments policies on immigration, means that Salman now faces the risk of deportation back to Iraq. 

In this powerful account by Salman's daughter, Jolene Saiyad, she recalls the fear and uncertainty that her father and family now face, while they wait for news on his future. 

For many around the world, Father’s Day was a joyous occasion celebrated last month with celebrations or renewed ties, while for others it was a painful reminder with the absence of a father; some too old and no longer with us and some absent altogether. 

And yet for others, it was the forced separation of family that caused this absence. On June 11th 2017, my father - Salman Saiyad - was taken by ICE during a raid targeting Iraqi Christian's across America, to face deportation back to Iraq. 

Whilst I dream of visiting Iraq, I also dream of the country being stable. When that day comes, people from around the world will see it for its history, beauty and culture. Returning will not mean uncertainty but today is not that day. 

Salman Saiyad came to America with his family in 1968, to flee religious persecution. He was just 14 years old. They were among a religious minority who were in a small village and practiced Catholicism. Before leaving Iraq, my father received his First Holy Communion and Confirmation and would continue his faith in America, as a Chaldean American. 

He settled in Detroit with his family, then moved to San Diego where he met my mother, got married and had children. He was a loving father and husband but in the 1980's, had got involved in drugs and made poor decisions while under the influence. Those decisions he would pay for in prison. He served 3 years in prison and a further 3 years on parole. 

After serving his sentence, he never used drugs or performed an injustice to society again. In 1989, after 20 years of being a permanent resident in the US, as well as being married to my American mother and having two American-Iraqi children, his green card was revoked and was put on deportation status. 

After being released, my father moved back to Detroit to be with his family and a larger Chaldean Iraqi community. He attended church on the weekends and spent his time at a Chaldean Country Club where he would play cards, domino's, and socialise with new friends. 

After his experience in the prison system, he spent more time with his brothers and sisters and would often take trips with family members. He also spent more time with his children and grandchildren, which helped bridged the absence from the time lost on drugs and in prison. For almost 30 years, he showed up at immigration to report his whereabouts, as instructed by the court. 

Despite his complete rehabilitation, cooperation with immigration and efforts to gain his residency back, the nightmare then happened. On Sunday, June 11th 2017, there was a knock at the door and my father was taken into ICE custody. 

Scared and unaware of his rights, he was handcuffed and put in to a van, along with many other Iraqi Christian residents of Metro Detroit. There was no warrant for his arrest. There was nothing signed by a judge or magistrate. There were only uniformed officers with guns and demands. 

His family had no idea where he was going or where he was being detained. We were told they were all being sent to Ohio, to face deportation back to Iraq within 48 hours. The levels of fear we endured were unrelenting. 

After searching, we eventually discovered he was being detained at a county jail outside of Detroit. Thousands of other Iraqi Chaldean's with outstanding immigration statuses, were also being detained and kept in holding. There were hundreds in the same county jail. Most were much younger than my father, many also had young wives and small children. 

The guards were showing him videos of what to do once he was sent back to Iraq and how to avoid capture and torture by ISIS/ISIL. We felt the videos were to scare the detainees, but guards said they were simply following orders. He was told to tell the family to get a bag ready; with a blanket, clothes and other necessities for his arrival in Iraq and for the family to send money over. 

We could not even imagine the idea of him being dropped off in a country he hasn’t even been to or seen in over 50 years. It's a country where he no longer knows anyone and has no family ties. Iraq is also a country which has faced an internationally recognised genocide against minorities, by the terrorist Islamic State. 

On Monday 12th June 2017, everyone was removed and taken elsewhere but my father was left behind. He went from being in a jail packed with newly placed detainees, to almost no other person in that particular holding center. All we as a family could wonder, is had they forgot to take him and had everyone else been deported? 

A few weeks went by and we were grateful my father was still on America’s soil until one day my uncle got a call saying my father had been taken by ICE and was being deported. For 48 hours we searched for him and found he'd been transferred to the Calhoun County Jail, where he is currently being held. 

The months in detention had not only weighed on his spirits, but on his physical health to. He has been hospitalised repeatedly for diabetes and for not being given his proper dosage of medication. Every time we speak, he sounds increasingly frail. As the jail also stopped allowing family visitations, it has become harder to gauge his well-being. 

On February 14th, 2018, my father had a court date and was granted a bond for $100k. We were thrilled at this opportunity of getting him released but saddened at the bond being set so high. Others in his situation were also being granted bond, but were having theirs set at around $4,000 or $5,000 respectively. 

Unfortunately, we could not find a bail bond company to take on an immigration case because they considered them "a high flight risk". Other efforts made, included appealing the case but in doing so, we also risk getting the bond revoked all-together if we lost. 

We finally decided to reach out to the community and started a campaign to help raise $100K. We have felt the support of our community, who have generously let us know that we are not alone and we have shared with thousands of people, the painful experience of Iraqi Christian families being torn apart. 

My father - Salman Saiyad - has now spent two Father’s Days in detention and in a few short weeks, will also celebrate a second birthday in detention. There is still a long road ahead for our family and for many others in the same situation. The battle for freedom is just beginning.



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