SAN DIEGO, Sept. 23 (AP)--Forty-five Iraqi Christians have been bused from Mexico to the United States, where they applied for political asylum after they and more than 80 others were detained in a shabby Tijuana hotel.

Another 35 were expected to be interviewed as well by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

Including those who had tried to walk across the border, the INS reported Saturday afternoon it was processing 124 Iraqis, including 42 children, who were seeking asylum. Sixteen had been released by afternoon.

"We can't describe our feelings right now, we are so happy," said Wally Sako, a relative of one of the Iraqi Christians, known as Chaldeans.

The group had gathered in Tijuana, just across the border from San Diego, home to the second-largest community of Chaldeans in the United States after Detroit.

They said they feared religious persecution if they returned to their homeland and hoped to live in the United States instead. Chaldeans are Catholics in communion with the Vatican.

Mexican authorities agreed to release all 133 Chaldeans held there to the United States, though it wasn't immediately clear how soon the others would be freed. A 15-year-old American boy of Iraqi descent who was among nine people arrested at the hotel after they were suspected of violating immigration laws was released from jail Friday night.

The situation would most likely be resolved over the next few days after intense negotiations between authorities from both countries, Jose Angel Pescador, Mexico's undersecretary for population and migration services, said Friday.

"We have no interest in returning them to their country of origin," he said after meeting with the refugees.

Mexican officials had offered them the opportunity to apply for political asylum there, but Duraed Gabriel, one of the Iraqis who has spent three months in the hotel, said they had no intention of remaining in Mexico.

"We are going to insist that we go to the United States because we have relatives there," he said through an interpreter.

One 25-year-old Iraqi interviewed at the Tijuana hotel Saturday said he had been waiting there to get into the United States for two months. He declined to give his name out of fear for his family in Iraq. The man said he left his country because his life was in danger.

He said he drove across the Iraqi border to Turkey and flew from Istanbul to Mexico City in a trip arranged by a smuggler, costing the Iraqi $7,500.

"I will build my future there," he said of his plans to live in San Diego or Detroit. "I am very, very [glad the] United States will accept us. We are all very, very happy."

The eight people still in jail in Mexico were expected to appear before a judge soon on charges of violating Mexican immigration law.

Four of them are Iraqi Americans who were living at the hotel and assisting the Chaldeans in applying for asylum. None of the people arrested had adequate explanations when asked what they were doing in a hotel with so many undocumented immigrants, Pescador said.

Details of their alleged crimes were not released.

Among those arrested was Raymond Barno, said his brother Gabe Barno, who was outside the hotel.

Raymond Barno used to work in a U.S. immigration office in Port Huron, Mich., and had been assisting the Chaldeans with their asylum applications, his brother said.

"He hasn't done anything illegal, and he never thought of doing anything illegal," said Gabe Barno, an American citizen.

Over the past three days, at least 72 Iraqis have been detained by U.S. authorities after they tried to enter the United States at the world's busiest port of entry without visas.

Two women and a child were released on humanitarian grounds, said Lauren Mack, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

more from beliefnet and our partners
Close Ad