By Ashourina Slewo
A couple weeks after his deportation to Iraq in early June, videos of Jimmy Aldaoud surfaced on Facebook. He was gaunt, visibly ill, crouched on a sidewalk as he talked about his plight after his forced removal from Detroit to Iraq.
“I don’t understand the language,” said Aldaoud. “I’m sleeping in the street. I’m diabetic. I take insulin shots. I’ve been throwing up, throwing up, sleeping in the street, trying to find something to eat. I’ve got nothing over here.”
When Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) came for him, Aldaoud pleaded for his life, knowing his death would be imminent in Iraq as he had never been to the country and did not speak the language.
“I begged them. I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country. I’ve never been there,’” he said. “However, they forced me.”
A few weeks later, Aldaoud was dead. Found dead in an apartment in Baghdad, Aldaoud is believed to have been alone at the time of his death, without family or friends.
“He died alone,” Aldaoud’s sister, Mary Bolis, told The Intercept. “It’s unfair.”
The Detroit resident’s cause of death is believed to be due to the lack of access to life-saving insulin.
In addition to suffering from diabetes, friends and family of Aldaoud said he suffered from bipolar disorder and was a paranoid schizophrenic. Originally deported to Najaf, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, Aldaoud found his way to Baghdad where he had reportedly been homeless, living on the streets with two other men who had also been deported.
Before being deported to Iraq, Aldaoud had never stepped foot in the country. In fact, Aldaoud was born in Greece and was legally brought to the United States with his family when he was just six months old. The United States was the only home he knew. This did not factor in the decision to deport him, though.
U.S. Representative Andy Levin, who has been a fierce advocate against the detention and deportation of Iraqi nationals called Aldaoud’s death predictable and preventable in an opinion piece for USA Today.
“Jimmy’s story is all the more heartbreaking because it was predictable, it was preventable, and it will almost certainly be repeated if we do not pause the deportation of Iraqi nationals immediately,” he said.
When asked for comment, ICE declined, telling the Detroit News that, “Al-Daoud’s immigration case underwent an exhaustive judicial review before the courts ultimately affirmed he had no legal basis to remain in the U.S.”
A Community in Mourning
News of Aldaoud’s death sparked outcries across the community. People took to social media to express their sorrow and their fears. More than anything, they wanted “justice for Jimmy.”
Levin’s office, alongside American and Iraqi officials started the process of transferring Aldaoud’s remains soon after the news of his death broke.
“Ensuring the safe return of Jimmy’s body to the United States is the least I could do for Jimmy’s family as they grieve during this tragedy,” Levin said in a statement. “Now, per Jimmy’s family’s wishes, he can receive a proper Catholic funeral and be buried next to his mother in Michigan, the only home he has ever known.”
The request to transfer Aldaoud’s remains was submitted to the Iraqi Consul, who, says Chaldean Community Foundation President Martin Manna, willingly helped to expedite the process. The transfer is expected to be completed later this month.
“I’m glad that my office could give Jimmy’s family this small sense of solace, but to honor his memory, we still must do everything we can to prevent another death by deportation,” Levin told the Detroit News.
A Renewed Sense of Fear
The news of Aldaoud’s death confirmed what many members of the community had feared. Deportation to Iraq would certainly be a death sentence, especially for Iraqi Christians. His death comes as the Trump administration heightened immigration enforcement, which lead to massive raids by ICE in June 2017 that resulted in the detention of hundreds Iraqi nationals.
Since the massive ICE raids, elected officials and community leaders have worked alongside the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to prevent the deportations of hundreds of Iraqi nationals.
The ACLU quickly filed a class action lawsuit, Hamama v. Adducci, after the raids. The nationwide lawsuit includes more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals from across the country, with 114 from Michigan.
This lawsuit bought Iraqi nationals time as they worked to reopen and fight their immigration cases. Despite the relentless work on the ACLU’s part, a decision was handed down by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals allowing ICE to once again begin the detention and deportation of Iraqi nationals.
The Americanization alone, says Levin, is enough to put people like Aldaoud at risk in a country like Iraq.
“…many are also Chaldean Christians, who face grave danger in Iraq on account of religious persecution,” Levin wrote.
“All of these factors make the Trump administration’s deportation of Iraqi nationals incredibly dangerous,” he explained. “The State Department warns any American against traveling to Iraq in the strongest terms. In the case of someone like Jimmy, who lived with illnesses like schizophrenia and diabetes, it was a death sentence. This administration deported him anyway.”
Working across the aisle, Levin, with U.S. Representative John Moolenaar, introduced the Deferred Removal for Iraqi Nationals Including Minorities Act in May. The bipartisan bill would provide two years of relief from deportation for Iraqi nationals with orders of deportation.
“This would allow time for each Iraqi to have their case heard individually in immigration court based on current conditions in Iraq,” Levin explained. “Many were ordered to be removed decades ago when Iraq was a completely different country. That’s why this bill is important. If it is signed into law, it will avert more preventable deaths.”
Legislation is not the only way to prevent these deportations, Trump can stop this, says Levin.
“…Iraq is not forcing people — like Jimmy — into harm’s way,” Levin wrote. “That’s on the president, who could end these deportations with the stroke of a pen, without any action from Congress. Why hasn’t he?”