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Assyrian Soccer Star in US Speaks Up for Detained Iraqis

Assyrian Justin Meram (center), a midfielder, represents Iraq in 2014 in a soccer match against Kuwait in 2014. ( AP)
As an American soccer player of Iraqi parents, Justin Meram is distressed by detentions and deportation threats within his Chaldean Christian community, a fallout of the US government's agreement with Baghdad to remove Iraq from its travel ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries.

"Being a Chaldean American, being an Iraqi American, it is tough to see," Meram told the Detroit News. "We hope obviously things will change because you feel for these families. I am Chaldean and I know what a great community we have here in Michigan."

Meram, 28, was born in the state of Michigan in the United States.

"It means so much. Being born here to Iraqi parents, the culture has always been with me," he said.

His parents are from the Tel Keppe district of Mosul, which historically was one of the most diverse cities in Iraq -- home to Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Turkmen and others of various religious sects including Muslims, Christians, Yezidis, and Jews.

However, the city's diversity may never return after the atrocities committed by ISIS against those it deemed to be non-believers or apostates, followed by a devastating Iraqi offensive to re-control the group's stronghold, which led to over a million people in the province being displaced since 2014.

In exchange for Iraq being removed from US President Donald Trump's travel ban first issued in January, Iraq agreed to accept deportees.

The majority of the people detained in Michigan are Chaldeans who have historically faced discrimination in Iraq and do not speak Arabic, their defenders say, arguing they are worried of being sent to Baghdad.

"You never want to see fellow Chaldeans go back to Iraq, especially after living here for so many years," Meram said. "You pray for them and you hope things will turn around."

So far those detained have criminal records, but argue that they have already paid their debt to society after going through the US courts and should be allowed to stay.

The Supreme Court stated on Monday that the government's ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen can be enforced if those visitors lack a "credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

In accordance with international football rules, Meram had to choose to represent the United States or Iraq in 2014.

He's made more than 20 appearances playing for Iraq since then. He has also represented the Middle Eastern side in the Asian Cup and Gulf Cup of Nation competitions.


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