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Assyrian-Chaldean Detainees join their U.S. Families
by Zinda Magazine -
Posted: Tuesday, October 03, 2000 09:16 pm CST

(ZNDA: San Diego) Last Sunday some 1700 Assyrian-Chaldeans crammed into St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Church in El Cajon, California to give their support to the 22 detainees who were freed to enter the U.S. and join their families. At press time, 41 more detainees have been released from Mexico and have stepped on American soil. Over 200 immigrants are asking for asylum from the U.S.

The trouble began last week when Federal Mexican authorities detained 38 Assyrian-Chaldeans in the Suites Royal Hotel in Tijuana. Others fled to the border and were taken in by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. After negotiations made between the U.S. and Mexican governments and the pressure from the Assyrian organizations and the local Chaldean church, an agreement was reached between the U.S. and Mexico which allowed the immigrants to seek political asylum in the U.S.

According to Mr. Carlo Ganjeh -- former president of the Assyrian United Organizations of California -- the Assyrian Universal Alliance, the Assyrian American National Federation affiliate in Southern California, St. Peter's Chaldean Catholic Church and other Chaldean organizations in the U.S. worked together to bring about the release of the detainees since last Thursday. Mr. Ganjeh noted that: "the Mexican government released a total of 63 Chaldean-Assyrian to the US Immigration official...The INS has agreed to approve the asylum of all remaining refugees and all of them will be release to the INS authorities in the next few days." Families with children were first on the list.

For months, these Assyrian-Chaldeans have been living in a Tijuana hotel while applying for political asylum. They waited for their US immigration interviews which were being processed at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. The Mexican government had been providing them with medical attention, food and finally paying for the hotel. But last week, Mexican federal police raided the hotel and detained the Iraqi refugees, questioning whether they legally entered Mexico.

Among the 9 people arrested by the Mexican authorities on charges of smuggling people through the Mexican-U.S border were 5 Assyrian-Chaldeans including a mother and son team. Mark Mikho was released late Friday night from a juvenile detention center. His mother, Anjie Mikho - a U.S. citizen, and Raymond, Gabe and Kathy Barno, were reportedly at the hotel serving as translators for the Iraqis. Police accused the Barnos and Mark's mother of smuggling and claiming they organized the trip for the Iraqis. Mark wasn't charged with anything, but was held for four days. Today, their relatives said that all five will soon be released and returned to the U.S. For Mark the pain was also physical. He suffers from lymphoma cancer and needs medication every four hours.

The Assyrian-Chaldean immigrants are smuggled through Jordan, Albania, Greece, and finally arrive in Mexico where they await the documents granting them permission to enter the United States.

The Rev. Michael Bazzi, pastor at the St. Peter Chaldean Catholic Church in El Cajon, Calif., near San Diego, said that 40 of those who were being questioned by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service were released late Thursday. In fact, 45 people were bused from Mexico to the United States. 35 others were released on Saturday for interviews with the U.S. INS. At Zinda press time Mexican authorities have released or agreed to release over 130 Assyrian-Chaldeans. Fr. Bazzi also said that over the years members of the Chaldean Christian minority have fled Iraq seeking a better life and religious freedom. Many have settled in the San Diego area, now home to one of the largest Chaldean communities in the United States.

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