A 41-year-old Detroit man deported to Iraq in June died Tuesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and two people close to the man’s family.
The man, Jimmy Aldaoud, spent most of his life in the U.S., but was swept up in President Donald Trump’s intensified immigration enforcement efforts.
Edward Bajoka, an immigration attorney who described himself as close to Aldaoud’s family, wrote on Facebook that the death appeared to be linked to the man’s inability to obtain insulin in Baghdad to treat his diabetes. Aldaoud was an Iraqi national, but he was born in Greece and came to the U.S. as a young child, his family friend said. He had never lived in Iraq and did not speak Arabic, according to Bajoka.
“Rest In Peace Jimmy,” Bajoka wrote. “Your blood is on the hands of ICE and this administration.”
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The Trump administration has sought to deport more than 1,000 Iraqis with final orders of removal, including Chaldean Catholics in the Detroit metro area, of which Aldaoud was one. Chaldeans are an eastern branch of the Roman Catholic church who trace their roots to ancient Mesopotamia in present-day Iraq, where they are at high risk of being tortured or killed by the the terror group ISIS, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a related legal case.
"Jimmy Aldaoud ... should have never been sent to Iraq," Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) said in a written statement. "My Republican colleagues and I have repeatedly called on the executive branch to cease deportation of such vulnerable people. Now, someone has died."
Advocates point out that many Chaldeans targeted for deportation have spent years or decades in the U.S.
Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which represents the immigrants in a class-action lawsuit, warned that continued deportations by Immigration and Customs Enforcement could put more people at risk.
“Jimmy’s death has devastated his family and us,” she said in a written statement. “We knew he would not survive if deported. What we don’t know is how many more people ICE will send to their deaths.”
ICE, the State Department and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The battle over the fate of the immigrant group has played out in Michigan, a state that Trump won by a narrow margin in 2016. Many in the Chaldean community supported Trump‘s candidacy and feel betrayed now.
Martin Manna of the Chaldean Community Foundation said roughly 160,000 Chaldeans live in the state and that at least half are registered voters.
“There’s a tremendous amount of anxiety in the community,” he said. “Iraq’s not a safe place for many of the people who are being sent back.”
Manna said his organization has pressed the Trump administration to grant Chaldeans “deferred enforced departure,” a form of humanitarian relief that would allow the population to remain in the U.S. and work legally on a temporary basis.
The administration extended the status for as many as 3,500 Liberians in March, but generally has moved to draw down enrollment in immigration relief programs.
Levin and Rep. John Moolenaar (R-Mich.) introduced a bipartisan bill in May, H.R. 2537 (116), that would grant two years of deportation relief to Iraqis with final orders of removal. While the measure counts 30 cosponsors, the passage of any immigration legislation in the current partisan environment could be a challenge.
The battle over the fate of Iraqis with final orders of removal began shortly after Trump took office.
The government of Iraq in 2017 agreed to accept deportees after previously refusing to cooperate with repatriations. Reuters reported at the time that the concession was part of an agreement to remove Iraq from the list of restricted countries in Trump’s original travel ban.
“We are doing things as required by international law, and sometimes you lose sleep over it,” an Iraqi diplomat told POLITICO about agreements with the U.S.
Advocates for the immigrants took the fight to federal court, but were hit with a major setback in December when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled the Trump administration could proceed with removals. The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the enforcement actions.
In its decision, the 6th Circuit stressed that many of the people subject to deportation had committed crimes.
According to the ACLU and a POLITICO search of court records, Aldaoud had a criminal conviction for disorderly conduct and served 17 months for a home invasion.
Bajoka, the family friend, said Aldaoud suffered from schizophrenia and other mental health issues.
“His mental health was the primary reason for his legal issues that led to his deportation,” Bajoka wrote on Facebook.
Aldaoud spoke about his deportation in an undated video posted to Facebook this week. In the video, he appears to be sitting on a sidewalk stoop in Baghdad.
“Immigration agents pulled me over and said I’m going to Iraq,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ve never been there. I’ve been in this country my whole life, since pretty much birth.’ … They refused to listen to me.”
Aldaoud said in the video that he had been homeless, vomiting because of a lack of access to insulin and unable to speak the language in Iraq. He also said he had been kicked while sleeping in the street.
“I begged them,” he said of his conversations with ICE agents. “I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country, I’ve never been there.’ However, they forced me.”