This is a news story about religion, mental illness, the U.S. government, deportation and Iraq.
Perhaps you’ve already heard about the heartbreaking story of Jimmy Aldaoud, the diabetic Chaldean Iraqi man who was deported to a homeland he never knew, only to die there a short time later because he couldn’t get enough insulin.
The story publicizes the plight of Chaldeans, an ancient branch of Catholicism that’s been in Iraq almost since the beginning of Christianity. They used to number 1 million, but 80 to 90 percent have emigrated over the years, especially after the death of Saddam Hussein, who for years protected the Chaldeans.
America’s Chaldean refugee community, many of whose members have long been threatened with deportation, have been warning that to send any of them to Iraq would be a death sentence. They, plus several members of Congress, are especially angry over Aldaoud’s death. If things don’t change soon, his fate will be their own.
The Intercept has the most complete story on Aldaoud,
BEFORE HE WAS deported, Jimmy Aldaoud had never stepped foot in Iraq. Born in Greece to Iraqi refugee parents, he immigrated to the United States with his family via a refugee resettlement program 40 years ago, when he was just 15 months old. He considered himself American and knew hardly anything of Iraqi society. Still, on the afternoon of June 4, he found himself wandering the arrivals terminal of Al Najaf International Airport, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, with around $50, some insulin for his diabetes, and the clothes on his back.
Najaf, by the way, is a Shi’ite stronghold and not the safest place for Christians of any stripe.
Aldaoud was used to getting by with little. For most of his adult life, he had experienced homelessness, working odd jobs, and stealing loose change from cars as he grappled with mental illness. But that was in the relative comfort of his hometown — for decades, he rarely strayed more than a few miles from his parents’ house in Hazel Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He had no idea how to survive in Iraq, and he was unprepared to make a run at it; he hadn’t known his deportation would come so soon, and officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t let him call his family before they sent him off.
Aldaoud spoke no Arabic, had no known family in Iraq, and nobody knew he was there. Disembarking in Najaf, he was “scared,” “confused,” and acting panicked, according to an Iraqi immigration officer he encountered.
And 63 days later — this past Tuesday — he was dead.
The story of how Aldaoud got there is a long one that I won’t get into now.
What concerns us here is the larger news story of the Chaldean community, many of whom live near Detroit. They have realized –- as more of their number were getting deported -- that they have no real allies in the United States and that they’d better lawyer up.
Thus, in addition to fearing the banishment of their loved ones, many members of Michigan’s Chaldean community were convinced that deportation would result in their torture or murder. As soon as ICE launched the raids, Chaldean community leaders recruited the help of large legal nonprofits, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, to sue to prevent the impending deportations — teeing up what was to become a long and hard-fought legal battle. Meanwhile, Aldaoud and 350 others like him sat in ICE detention.
As you read the story, you realize that Aldaoud’s lawyers had enough proof of persecution of Christians in Iraq to convince a lawyer to allow him to stay here. But it was a host of other difficulties, including Aldaoud’s mental illness and his erratic behavior in the courtroom, that resulted in him getting deported.
The Washington Post, which also ran a long piece on Aldaoud, explains it like this:
Immigration officials, though, paint Aldaoud as a repeat criminal who violated court orders. ICE officials in Detroit, in a statement to The Post, say he had 20 criminal convictions between 1998-2017, including several violent charges, and that he cut off a GPS device he was supposed to wear while on release from immigration custody.
“(His) immigration case underwent an exhaustive judicial review before the courts affirmed he had no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” ICE’s Detroit office said in a statement, adding that he was sent back to Iraq with a “full complement of medicine."
So the story is partly a mental health one. It’d be one thing to deport a mentally ill person back to a place like Mexico if they know the language and the terrain. But Aldaoud didn’t know the language, had no contacts in Iraq and wasn’t even born there.
So on June 2, he was deported. The Post continues:
In his Facebook video, the Detroit resident said he wasn’t given any choice.
“I begged them. I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country. I’ve never been there,’” he said. “However, they forced me.”
Even worse, Bajoka said, he ended up in Najaf, a holy city for Shiite Muslims. “That’s a very dangerous place for him to be as a Chaldean,” Bajoka said. “There’s a lot of evidence of violence toward that minority group by Shiite militias. There’s zero Christian population there.”
The Intercept actually followed Aldaoud’s fate after he landed in Iraq. He was eventually rescued by Samir Kada, a fellow Chaldean, who had also been deported. Kada assembled a few Iraqi actors to pose as Aldaoud’s family and somehow bribed or paid someone to get him a fake ID to get Aldaoud out of Najaf and into Baghdad.
But Aldaoud couldn’t get enough insulin to keep himself alive. During a crucial time when Kada himself was in the hospital, Aldaoud’s luck ran out. He died alone.
There has been no shortage of coverage of this outrage. The Detroit Free Press ran a photo of a man holding up a sign stating: STOP DEPORTATION OF IRAQI CHALDEAN CHRISTIANS NOW. It mentioned that with a Christian cross tattooed on his arm, Aldaoud was automatically a target in a place like Najaf.
The more you look into this story, the more disturbing it gets. Mindy Belz, reporting for World, wrote that a third country had offered to take Aldaoud but that U.S. immigration authorities refused. Putting him on a plane to Najaf was an intentional twist of cruelty. Apparently, it was not an accident that he was sent there instead of Baghdad.
She also reminds us that in 2017, immigration agents raided a Detroit-area Chaldean church during Mass and arrested 114 men. That sounds like something China would do, not us. What have we become and where are we going on this?
The arrests continue as we speak, so the issue is not going away. There are other communities in America, such as Kurds, that are also getting arrested, but Kurds tend to be Muslim and already have networks in northern Iraq. Chaldean Christians have far fewer allies there, plus they have a target on their back if they enter the country.
There’s no sign that our government is going to stop this practice any time soon, so there’s plenty of opportunities out there, folks, to find people like Jimmy Aldaoud and cover them.
Don’t have names? The Iraqi Christian Foundation would be glad to help provide some. Pick up that phone.