WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump promised on Thursday during a speech in Michigan to reverse course on some deportations of Iraqi Christians whom his administration sought to remove earlier in his term, but gave no specifics.
Trump said during an event at an auto parts manufacturer in the city of Warren that his administration would grant an “extension” to Iraqi Chaldean Catholic immigrants, a group that has been targeted for immigration enforcement during his presidency.
“We’re going to make sure that we do everything we can to keep people who have been good to this country out of harm’s way,” Trump said. “When I get back, we’re going to give those who need it an extension to stay in our country.”
Trump hopes to be reelected in November and Michigan, which he won narrowly in 2016, could be a competitive battleground during the campaign.
Trump launched a broad immigration crackdown after taking office that included arrests of Iraqi Chaldean Catholics with outstanding deportation orders in the Detroit area, some of whom had lived in the United States for decades.
Some of the arrests took place in Michigan’s Macomb County, which Trump won by 53.6 percent in 2016 with the support of many in its Iraqi Christian community.
Federal immigration authorities previously had been unable to remove the Iraqi immigrants because the government in Baghdad would not accept them. But Iraq agreed in 2017 to accept U.S. deportees as part of a deal to remove it from the Trump administration’s travel ban list.
Advocates have argued the Iraqi Christians deported to Iraq could be targeted in that country as a religious minority. They also contend some face deportation because of old or relatively minor criminal convictions.
In a case that received widespread media attention last year, a 41-year-old Iraqi national who had lived in the United States for most of his life died after being deported to Iraq.
The man, Jimmy Aldaoud, suffered from mental health issues and diabetes, and his family said at the time that he died because he could not get access to care in Iraq.
Trump told the crowd in Warren he had discussed the issue of Iraqi Christians with lawmakers during the flight from Washington, but did not give more details.
The White House said five Republican lawmakers from the state attended the event, which focused on the new North American trade agreement.
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Reporting by Ted Hesson, Andrea Shalal and Kristina Cooke; Editing by Daniel Wallis