SAN DIEGO — An Iraqi national who had lived in the U.S. since he was an infant died shortly after being deported to Iraq as part of the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
Jimmy Aldaoud, 41, died from complications of diabetes, his attorney Edward Bajoka told CNN. Aldaoud, who had a long criminal record, was deported in early June to Iraq, where he had no family or contacts and did not speak the language. His body was found Tuesday at an apartment he shared with another Iraqi American deportee.
“He was not able to get insulin in Iraq. That was essentially the cause of his death,” Bajoka said. “This death was completely preventable. It did not have to happen. The death has been devastating to Jimmy’s family and to the community.”
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit tell CNN that when Aldaoud was deported on June 2, “he was supplied with a full complement of medicine to ensure continuity of care.”
Aldaoud, part of the Chaldean Catholic community in Michigan, had never been to Iraq, his attorney said, despite holding Iraqi citizenship through his father. He was born in a refugee camp in Greece. His family came to the US lawfully as refugees in 1979 when he was 6 months old, ICE confirmed to CNN. His now-deceased parents and three other siblings all became US citizens, Bajoka said, but he never did.
Bajoka shared a video of Aldaoud taken in Iraq two and a half weeks after he was deported, where he discusses being apprehended by ICE agents in May before being coerced onto a commercial flight days later.
“I begged them. I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country. I’ve never been there,’ ” Aldaoud says in the video. “They forced me. I’m here now, and I don’t understand the language. I’ve been sleeping in the streets. I’m diabetic. I take insulin shots. I’ve been throwing up, throwing up, sleeping in the streets. I’ve got nothing to eat.”
Aldaoud had an extensive criminal history “that involved no less than 20 convictions between 1998-2017,” a Detroit ICE official told CNN, including assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic violence, contempt of court, failure to appear, breaking and entering, malicious destruction of a building, home invasion and possession of marijuana. His criminal history ultimately led to him being incarcerated and transferred to ICE custody in the early 2000s, Bajoka said.
“He had severe mental health issues. He was bipolar, schizophrenic, suffered from severe depression and anxiety,” Bajoka said. “That’s ultimately what led to his trouble with the law, and ultimately what led to his deportation.”
Aldaoud’s family, along with Democratic Rep. Andy Levin, of Aldaoud’s home state of Michigan, is hoping to be able to bring his body back to the US to receive a Catholic burial and be laid to rest next to his parents.
“This should say to the Trump administration, if they continue to deport vulnerable people to Iraq that they will — people will continue to meet the worst kind of fate that they can imagine,” Levin said. “What I ask is what policy interest of the United States does this serve? I do not understand.”
Levin is sponsoring a bill along with Republican Rep. John Moolenaar of Michigan that aims to halt deportations of Iraqi nationals in order to give them time to appeal their immigration cases.
“I’ve had intense discussions with the administration about this. They’ve been friendly and not hostile at all. But it just doesn’t seem like they’re likely to change course,” Levin told CNN. “My message to Iraqi diplomats right now is that they need to not take anyone in if they can’t provide a true safety for them.”
Bajoka said Aldaoud had been released from ICE custody in the early 2000s and been redetained in June 2017, as part of a massive immigration sweep that targeted Iraqi nationals with deportation orders. Aldaoud had had deportation orders since 2005, ICE confirmed to CNN.
He was part of a class action suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan aimed at releasing detainees who were being held indefinitely, partly because of Iraq’s unwillingness to receive them, according to court filings.
After spending 18 months at an ICE detention facility in Ohio, Aldaoud was released in December 2018 because of a court order in that case, along with other detainees, but he “immediately absconded from ICE’s noncustodial supervision program by cutting his GPS tether on the day of his release,” according to a Detroit ICE official.
As his immigration case continued to hit roadblocks, Bajoka said, Aldaoud had given up on continuing to appeal it when he was detained in May. ICE officials say he was arrested by local law enforcement for stealing from a vehicle in April.
“They (ICE) redetained him and basically told him, ‘Look you don’t have a choice. We don’t care if you don’t want to go,’ ” Bajoka said. “They were physically intimidating to him, and they basically forced him onto this plane.”
Levin said deporting Aldaoud to Iraq was essentially sending him to “his death.”
“It was a death sentence to send him to Iraq,” Levin said. “He has no family there. The Chaldean community is largely destroyed there. He doesn’t speak Arabic. He’s totally Americanized. He’s got mental health problems, so he’s not able to deal. He’s diabetic. He had no reason to have access to medicine there.”