updated 8/14/2007 11:33:55 PM ET 2007-08-15T03:33:55

Two California-bound Iraqi brothers, apparently Christians, were arrested in northern Mexico with false passports, immigration officials said Tuesday.

The brothers were detained Monday at the airport in the northern city of Monterrey after they arrived on a flight from Madrid, Spain, with fake Swedish passports, said Luis Robles, a Mexican immigration official in Monterrey.

John Georges Hanna Abona, 25, and Sarmad Georges Hanna Abona, 30, told authorities they were Chaldean Christians trying to join relatives in California, Robles said.

The pair told investigators they left Iraq in November and went to Greece, Turkey and then Spain, where they purchased the false documents, Robles said.

They were sent to an immigration detention center in Mexico City pending charges for using false documents.

In January, immigration authorities in Monterrey detained 11 Iraqi Christians who also arrived on a flight from Spain and who were on their way to California. Mexico decided not to deport them.

Chaldean Christians have a sizable community in Southern California and frequently try to enter the United States through Mexico, claiming they face persecution in Iraq.

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