NM Iraqi Christian who helped US military faces deportation to Iraq

NM Iraqi Christian who helped US Military faces deportation to Iraq

A political refugee from New Mexico is now in ICE custody in El Paso, facing deportation to Iraq.

His family tells KFOX14 Investigates that would be a death sentence.

Abbas Al-Sokaini came to the United States more than 20 years ago as a political refugee.

He married an American and together they have 16 grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Earlier this year, President Donald Trump issued an executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq.

Iraq was removed from the second version of the ban on the condition that the country take back 1,400 Iraqi nationals living in the U.S.; many of them as refugees.

“For this to happen to him 20 years later in return is unthinkable,” said Cindy Norris, Al-Sokaini’s niece.

From inside her El Paso home, Cindy Norris is overcome with emotion when she talks about her uncle.

“It’s like literally sitting back and watching a family member get put to death,” said Norris.

Al-Sokaini and his wife, Brenda Sisneros, were at their home in Albuquerque on June 20when ICE agents took Al-Sokaini in for questioning.

“They told her, ‘Don’t worry you can pick him up within an hour to two hours,’” said Sisneros.

That would not happen.

“My uncle Abbas just gave her a big hug and said, ‘Hunny, they're not going to bring me back home.’ He already knew what was happening,” said Norris.

Al-Sokaini has been in custody in El Paso ever since.

This husband, great-grandfather and member of the Albuquerque community could soon be sent to war-torn Iraq.

To understand his story, we have to turn back the clock more than 20 years, when Al-Sokaini lived under the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein.

“My uncle did not agree with Saddam’s ideology,” said Norris.

All Iraqi men were forced to serve in the military.

“He was tortured by Saddam’s regime several times,” said Norris.

Al-Sokaini endured electric shock and had toes cut off.

As a truck driver for the Iraqi military during the Gulf War, Al-Sokaini surrendered to U.S. troops and began to assist the U.S. military with information on where weapons and ammunition were being transported.

“The fact that he resisted Saddam and went through the torture speaks volumes to who he is,” said Ken Norris, Cindy’s husband.

Ken Norris is a U.S. combat veteran from the Gulf War.

“To give us that intelligence, he knew, he knew he was putting his life at risk,” said Ken Norris.

After living in a refugee camp for six years, Al-Sokaini was brought to the U.S. as a political refugee.

“My uncle Abbas is more American, more patriotic and loves this country more than some people I personally know that were born and raised here,” said Norris.

Soon after he met Norris’ aunt, Brenda Sisneros.

“He’s a very generous, very kind man,” said Norris.

In 2000, Al-Sokaini did have a run-in with the law.

Abbas was with another immigrant who was in possession of cocaine and they were charged with intent to distribute.

His family says it was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time coupled with bad legal advice.

The family says an attorney told Al-Sokaini to take a plea deal.

He pleaded guilty and served six months of probation; that was 17 years ago and he hasn’t had any legal trouble since then.

“He provided a service for our country. He's been here peacefully for 20 years. He's a very gentle and generous kind man he doesn't deserve any of this,” said Norris.

ICE officials sent KFOX14 Investigates a statement: “Mr. Al-Sokaini has an aggravated felony conviction for trafficking cocaine and drug possession. He was issued a final order of removal by a federal immigration judge on Oct. 20, 2003. He remains in ICE custody pending his removal.”

But the government decided not to deport Al-Sokaini in 2003 because of the war in Iraq and hasn't tried to remove him for 14 years.

“He checked in every year for the last 20 years. He never missed a check-in,” said Norris.

Since then, Al-Sokaini has built his life and raised a large family in Albuquerque.

The order to remove Al-Sokaini and hundreds of other Iraqis has been unenforceable due to a lack of repatriation between the United States and Iraq.

Unenforceable until now, with the travel ban agreement.

His family says he has always worked two or three jobs, gave back the community and recently fulfilled a dream of buying a four-unit apartment complex.

“I don’t think they are in touch with how much damage they are causing,” said Norris.

After being allowed to legally stay in the U.S. for two decades, his family can't believe he's locked up in El Paso.

He is facing deportation and his family fears if that happens, he will be killed in Iraq because he's Christian and he helped the US Military.

“How have we sunk that low, I don't care what your politics are, as a human being, how have your morals and your ethics sunk so low that that can be your standard?” said Ken Norris.

A class action lawsuit has been filed to halt the removal of hundreds of Iraqi refugees and a federal district judge granted a temporary stay.

“He still had faith in the system, the system today is putting the screws to him,” said Ken Norris.

Now his family is hoping a judge will rule in Al-Sokaini’s favor and send him home to his loving, American family.

“That's his whole life,” said Cindy Norris.

We tried to interview Al-Sokaini at the detention center but he is worried speaking out could affect his case.

The ACLU in New Mexico has filed a lawsuit to stop the deportation and another Iraqi in Albuquerque.

Family has started a GoFundMe account to raise money for an attorney.

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