A former campaign adviser to Donald Trump is offering to testify in court on behalf of Iraqi Christians in the United States who suddenly face deportation under the Republican president – for a hefty fee, Politico reports.
Walid Phares, a Lebanese-American academic, advised Trump on foreign affairs during the 2016 presidential campaign. He also has appeared on the Fox News and Fox Business channels to promote Trump’s national security policies, including the travel bans that would temporarily bar Iraqi Christian refugees, among others, from U.S. soil.
At the same time, Phares charges unusually high fees, up to $15,000 or more, according to lawyers, to testify in immigration proceedings about the dangers facing people deported to Iraq, where Christians and others with U.S. ties are often killed.
Activists who work with Iraqis in the U.S. are questioning Phares’ dual role as an advocate of Trump’s harsher immigration policies and a defender of those who are being affected. Some critics point out that the main reason Iraqis in America are now subject to deportation is because of the fallout from the Trump travel bans that Phares has supported.
“This is a monster that he was part of creating, and now he’s asking people for thousands of dollars to help protect them from it. It’s a shame. It’s taking advantage of people when they’re at their most vulnerable.” said Steve Oshana, executive director of A Demand for Action, a group that helps Christians in the Middle East.
Phares, who would respond only to written questions, said in an email that his support for Trump was strictly about foreign policy and national security, not domestic issues — implying that deportations fall under the latter.
“Now, some individuals asked me if I could serve as an expert witness — not on deportation itself, nor on the aforesaid [travel] ban, but on ‘country conditions in Iraq.’ These are two distinct subjects. Hypocrisy is when political critics attack my professional expertise while invoking non-existent links to my political opinion, which, by the way, they describe falsely.” Phares wrote.
In January, Phares went on television to defend Trump’s initial travel ban on people from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Iraq. He stressed the importance of having strict vetting before accepting immigrants or travelers from the countries in question because of the presence of Islamist extremists.
“What is happening right now is a choice. Either we maintain the policy of the previous administration, the Obama administration with jihadism growing all over the region … or we want to change.” Phares said on Fox News after the first version of the travel ban was issued.
Earlier this month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated that the United States believes the Islamic State, a Sunni Muslim terrorist group, is responsible for genocide against Christians, Yazidis, Shiite Muslims and other groups in Iraq and Syria. Vice President Mike Pence has also made similar statements.
Such declarations are one reason Iraqis in the United States are stunned that people in their community could now be sent back to Iraq under Trump. Iraqi Christians in particular were major supporters of Trump in 2016, including in swing states like Michigan, which has a large population of people with roots in the Middle East.
The Iraqis now facing deportation include Chaldean Christians, Kurds, Muslims and others who were ordered removed many years ago, but who could not be deported because Iraq would not take them. Many of the potential deportees had committed crimes years before, but had lived largely quiet lives since. Some barely speak Arabic.
Phares’ willingness to defend both Trump and the potential deportees also has jarred Christian community activists and others because of what he is charging.
A Michigan lawyer with clients considering using Phares told Politico that for written testimony, Phares is charging $5,000. For in-person and written testimony combined, he’s asking for at least $15,000. If Phares can testify via video or telephone, he’ll offer that and a written submission for $10,000, the lawyer said on condition of anonymity.
Community activists and other attorneys said they’d heard similar figures from families mulling hiring Phares. An email from a law firm shared with Politico also appeared to confirm the $5,000 fee for Phares’ written report.
Phares dismissed concerns about his fees. “I offer specific fees, calculated on my time/effort, and individuals who seek me can either accept or reject it. That’s how all experts operate,” he wrote.
Phares’ defenders argue that there is a logic to his approach: whether he is agreeing that the U.S. needs to restrict immigration from Iraq or saying it shouldn’t deport people there, he’s ultimately saying Iraq is a dangerous place.