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Chicago lawyer finds mission in helping Iraqi Christian refugees

Robert DeKelaita, himself from Iraq, has helped hundreds gain asylum in the US.

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The immigration lawyer and his client huddled at the defense bench in federal court, whispering in Aramaic.

Robert DeKelaita, born and baptized Christian in Iraq and raised in the US, dwarfed his client, a frightened young Iraqi named Yousif Ibrahim.

Mr. Ibrahim, a Christian, had been jailed as a "deportable/inadmissible alien" since walking across the US-Mexican border in May.

Minutes later, Mr. DeKelaita described how Ibrahim's father had been killed by Muslim insurgents in Iraq — because he was a Christian working for the UN and because another son had served in the US armed forces.

"He cannot go back to Iraq.... He has established credible fear" of persecution, DeKelaita told the immigration judge.

When the judge set a new hearing, DeKelaita told Ibrahim he would be freed.

Over the past decade, DeKelaita has obtained asylum for hundreds of Iraqi Christians facing deportation here, after fleeing religious persecution in Iraq.

But each success leaves DeKelaita conflicted. "My heart is wedded to the idea that they should be safe and secure in their own homeland," DeKelaita says inside his law office in Skokie, Ill. "What I'm doing is temporary."

Repressed under Saddam Hussein, Iraq's Christian population has been decimated since the US invasion in 2003. Muslim extremists have murdered priests and burned Christian churches, shops, and homes. Priests in Iraq estimate that fewer than 500,000 Christians remain, about a third of the number before 2003.

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