The death of Jimmy Aldaoud

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Coming up next on The World and Everything in It: a story of deportation under very different circumstances.

In 2017 we brought you the story of Iraqi Christians living legally in Detroit who were caught up in immigration raids. More than 100 faced deportation because they had criminal records.

NICK EICHER, HOST: Several of them have now been sent back to Iraq. The story of one man made headlines last week because it ended so tragically.

WORLD Magazine senior editor Mindy Belz wrote about the case in the latest edition of the magazine and joins us now to talk about it.

Good morning to you.

MINDY BELZ, REPORTER: Good morning, Nick.

EICHER: Tell me about Jimmy Aldaoud.

BELZ: Jimmy Aldaoud was one of about 1,400 Iraqis who have been legally residing in the United States—most of them for decades. Aldaoud was 41 years old. But these Iraqis have become eligible for deportation due to criminal records—some of them minor like a drug offense or maybe a firearms offense that they had been convicted on, served time on. Aldaoud had a number of criminal offenses—including some robbery, breaking and entering, that sort of thing—as recently as 2012. Friends and family said that he was bipolar with schizo-affective disorder. Plus, he was a diabetic. This was a sick man.

EICHER: So that was the reason that ICE deported him? Because of the criminal actions?

BELZ: Exactly. The criminal actions—even though he was a legal resident—made him subject to deportation. Normally, someone in the United States that long would have become a U.S. citizen. But that hadn’t happened because of the criminal record and because we have a broken immigration system where we don’t handle these cases very well.

EICHER: Tell the story of what happened with Jimmy after he arrived in Iraq.

BELZ: He was deported without identification papers to a country that—as you and I know—is a war zone, where there are multiple checkpoints. I’ve been in any number of Iraqi cities and you don’t get very far without having some kind of identification. He had none. That meant he was stuck. He had no family. He had no community. And he was living on the streets and within a few weeks ran out of insulin, had no way to treat his diabetes, and his family announced this month that he died there from diabetes.

EICHER: And you wrote about that in your magazine column. Can you tell me—and part of the point you were making was that this was really a big issue for the Iraqi Christian community in Detroit. Talk a little bit about what you know about that community.

BELZ: Well, it helps to remember that Iraq is a country with longstanding conflicts and longstanding religious oppression under Saddam Hussein going back decades. The Iraqi Christian community in Detroit goes back several generations and it numbers about 200,000 people—some of them came as refugees, some as legal immigrants. Jimmy was pretty typical in that his family came when he was 15 months old from Greece—where he was born in a refugee camp. And he came with his parents and two sisters. All of them went on to become U.S. citizens, but, again, his citizenship status was never resolved.

EICHER: I don’t want to just gloss over the fact that there are criminals in the U.S. illegally and that, reasonably, they should be candidates for deportation.

BELZ: That’s right. Anyone who’s committing criminal activity and is in the United States illegally would be an obvious candidate for deportation. I’ve talked to a number of lawyers who have handled these cases to try to understand them and they really are kind of a special category because these were actually legal residents. But they remained in this “limbo” subject to deportation. Some even went so far as to go to court and to be pardoned by the governor of Michigan, just to clear their residency status. That was the only way that they could eliminate this cloud over their case and stop being subject to deportation.

EICHER: You came across some troubling details about Aldaoud’s deportation that we didn’t know until after the family announced that he had died. What do you know about that?

BELZ: One of the things that was very troubling to me is that we learned Aldaoud was flown into Najaf, not into Baghdad, which would have been customary for a deportation. He was an Assyrian Christian who is sent to a town that is a center of a Shiite Islam in Iraq. It’s a town that I would say is not known for being hospitable to Americans coming in. And certainly it has no Assyrian Christian community there. No one for him to connect with.

The other thing was that as I spoke to people who had been advocating on his behalf with the Department of Homeland Security and with ICE, they actually had come up with a third country that would accept him. This is not an uncommon practice. And the Department of Homeland Security refused to accept that arrangement. So it begins to seem like they wanted to deport him in a way that was endangering his life. And I want to be clear that we made several inquiries with the Department of Homeland Security and with ICE and we didn’t get any response from them on this case.

EICHER: Is the Jimmy Aldaoud case an outlier case or do you think this is typical? Are there others similarly situated?

BELZ: Well, I wish it was, but back in 2017 when these cases first started coming to our attention, there were about 1,400 Iraqis who fell into the same category as Jimmy Aldaoud. Now, there are about 114, I’m told, that are all Iraqi Christians, all subject to going back not only to a country where they haven’t lived or haven’t lived for decades, but a country where Christians have been targeted just for being Christians. It just seems exceptionally punitive and, certainly, as we know in his case, endangers the lives of people who may be deported over the coming weeks or months.

EICHER: Mindy Belz, senior editor for WORLD Magazine. Mindy, thanks for the update.

BELZ: Thanks, Nick.

(Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images) A now-closed Chaldean restaurant in Detroit, Mich. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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