The Supreme Court of the United States on Monday denied certiorari in Shabo v. Barr. As a result of that denial, the Sixth Circuit’s ruling is the final word in an immigration case with potentially damaging consequences for a Christian husband and father of two who has lived most of his life as an American.
Amir Francis Shabo, who is a Chaldean Christian, left his home country of Iraq in 1981 as a 13-year-old. His family had been forced from their home and threatened with death. Three years later, the United Nations recognized Shabo as “stateless” and the U.S. granted him refugee status. He came to the U.S. and became a lawful permanent resident.
In 1989, Shabo and his family returned to Iraq for a visit. The Iraqi government asked Shabo and his brother to enlist in the military to fight for Iraq. When the brothers refused, the Iraqi government imprisoned Shabo’s father, who later died in custody.
Shabo returned to the U.S. In 1992, a then 25-year-old Shabo was convicted of possession of cocaine with intent to distribute. He was paroled after 60 months, but then faced an immigration judge. Shabo asked to remain in the U.S., pleading that if he were removed to Iraq, he would likely be persecuted as a Christian.
The immigration judge wasn’t biting. He told Shabo, “I understand it’s a harsh country,” but ordered Shabo’s removal anyway (on the basis that Shabo was ineligible for a withholding of deportation because of his drug offense). The judge told Shabo, “maybe [your attorney] will be able to help you find a [different] country that will take you.” According to the judge, it was “only proper that a native and citizen of [a] country be returned to that country.”
Shabo appealed the judge’s ruling and lost. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) recognized that “the Islamic State targets Chaldean Christians—among other minority ethnic and religious groups,” but found that there wasn’t enough evidence that found that any persecution would be carried out by government officials. According to the BIA, the Iraqi government sufficiently combats terrorism such that Shabo wasn’t entitled to asylum.
Although Shabo lost his appeal, he remained in the U.S., because at the time, the Iraqi government was not issuing travel papers. Shabo stayed in the U.S. for years, eventually getting married to an American woman and having two children who are also American citizens.
When the U.S. government removed Iraq from President Donald Trump’s list of nations subjected to the travel ban, the Iraqi government simultaneously began accepting Iraqi-American deportees. Shortly thereafter, ICE arrested Chaldean Iraqis—such as Shabo. Knowing what was to come, Shabo filed an emergency petition to have his case reopened.
At the Sixth Circuit, however, Shabo lost again. That court agreed with the immigration judge, finding that because of Shabo’s drug conviction, the court simply has no power to review his deportation order. For those like Shabo, whose deportation resulted from a criminal conviction, only a constitutional question or legal error would be grounds for reconsideration.
Shabo appealed for a final time, asking that SCOTUS review his case and grant him asylum under the Convention Against Torture. Although there appears to be a split among the federal circuits over how cases like this are handled, SCOTUS declined to take up the case.
[image via ERIC BARADAT/AFP/Getty Images]