By Chad Dou
He helped Christian Assyrians obtain legal status in the U.S., but now a Chicago lawyer is being charged by the Justice Department with falsifying information on asylum applications.
Robert DeKelaita, 52, says he’s eager to stand trial and dismiss the “absurd” charges, and the 1,000 or so immigrants he has helped are rallying behind him. Some go so far as to accuse the current administration of being hostile toward Christians while being friendly to Muslims.
“I am very much looking forward to getting my trial on, and I believe I will be vindicated and people will see that the DOJ is not acting properly,” said DeKelaita, who immigrated from Iraq with his family when he was 11 years old.
Because he escaped religious persecution himself, it was natural for DeKelaita to help fellow believers from the Middle East. But now his efforts have drawn the ire of the Justice Department, which charged him with doctoring asylum applications of 12 clients.
For Mimi Odicho of Chicago, such allegations against the lawyer who helped her are an outrage. “My sister and her three young children are among the Assyrian hostages in Syria. We don’t even know if they’re still alive,” she told WorldNetDaily (WND). “Instead of trying to help save them – save these innocent people – the U.S. government is trying to take down a man who has been our people’s only hope for years.
“Robert is our hero,” Odicho said. “He represented me in my asylum claim when I didn’t have any way to pay him except with a ‘thanks.’ I am forever indebted to him. He was a light at the end of a very long and horrid immigration tunnel for me and for many others.”
While DeKelaita has hit roadblocks helping Christian immigrants, Muslim refugees from the Syrian civil war represent the largest portion of a U.S. resettlement program that House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul, R-Texas, has called a “jihadist pipeline” into America. Some estimate that 95% of new legalized immigrants to the U.S. are Muslim.
In September of 2014, DeKelaita and his translator were arrested when federal agents raided his office in Chicago. The pair were indicted for allegedly charging fees to submit false information and for coaching immigrants how to lie to the Homeland Security’s U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
The indictment accuses DeKelaita of writing or creating “false asylum statements detailing non-existent accounts of purported religious persecution, including fictitious accounts of rape and murder, and attached these statements to the [CIS] Form I-589 he submitted on behalf of his clients,” CNS News reported.
After pleading not guilty in federal court to the charges, the pair were released on their own recognizance. For each count, he faces up to 10 years of imprisonment and $250,000 in fines.
Christians in the region between Iraq and Syrian have suffered increased persecution with the advent of the Islamic State. Men are executed while women and girls are forced into sex slavery. Hundreds of thousands have fled and are refugees.
A video about the indictment argues that federal authorities extracted false confessions out of previous DeKelaita clients by intimidating them during hours-long interrogations in which they didn’t inform them of their rights.
As the trial date approached, many of those testimonies were dropped as unreliable, and the trial was postponed from May to April of next year in an attempt to get better evidence, the video explains.
Bishop Mar Gewargis Younan of the Ancient Church of the East, now presiding in the Chicago area, said the Assyrian Christains will give unflagging support to DeKelaita.
“His entire career has been aimed at giving back – to the church, to his heritage, to his people,” Mar Gewargis said to WND. “I can say with confidence that every parishioner in our church has either themselves been represented by Mr. DeKelaita, or has a relative that was represented by him. When the charges were filed, the community was in outrage and disbelief – and rightfully so.
“There is not a single Assyrian family anywhere in Iraq or Syria that has not been directly impacted by religious persecution,” he added. “The manner in which Mr. DeKelaita’s case has been approached seemingly moves to challenge this true. We are proud of Mr. DeKelaita’s achievements and will continue to support him.”
Editor’s Note: Chad completed this article as an assignment (I’m the teacher) for an English class at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica. Originally, it was published on GodReports.com but then it was taken down. Here it is in its entirety.