DETROIT, Mich. — Christian leaders and local legislators have mourned the death of a Chaldean Christian who had been deported to Iraq by the United States.
Jimmy Al-Daoud, a 41 year-old Chaldean Catholic who lived in the Detroit suburbs, was apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2017 and eventually deported to Iraq in June of this year. Born in Greece, Al-Daoud was an Iraqi national but had never previously been to the country.
According to an announcement by his lawyer, Al-Daoud died on August 6.
“Christians of Iraqi descent who have been living in the U.S. for decades have nowhere to return to in Iraq,” Toufic Baaklini, president of the advocacy group In Defense of Christians, stated on Friday.
“While the United States acted within its rights in deporting an unlawful resident, in doing so, they sent an Iraqi Christian back to a country whose own indigenous Christians cannot find a place to live in safety.”
As reported by POLITICO Thursday, Al-Daoud’s lawyer posted on Facebook that Jimmy, a diabetic, likely died from lack of access to insulin. He was born in Greece and had never been to Iraq.
Although he “entered the United States lawfully in 1979,” ICE officials in Detroit said in a statement that Al-Daoud violated the terms of his lawful status with several criminal convictions and received a final order of removal in 2005 after an “exhaustive judicial review.”
Between 1998 and 2017, Al-Daoud had 20 convictions including assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic violence, breaking and entering, malicious destruction of a building, home invasion, breaking and entering a vehicle, and receiving and concealing stolen property.
After the 2005 order of removal, Al-Daoud’s case was later reopened, only for him to be again given an order of removal on May 14, 2018.
Several months after that order of removal, a district court ruled that Al-Daoud and other Iraqi nationals awaiting deportation had to be released. As part of his release, Al-Daoud had to wear a GPS tether as part of ICE’s “non-custodial supervision program” but he cut the tether on the day of his release in violation of the program. He was arrested again in April of 2019 for larceny from a motor vehicle.
Al-Daoud was deported on June 2, ICE said, and “was supplied with a full complement of medicine to ensure continuity of care.”
In a video of him in Iraq that posted by his lawyer to Facebook, Al-Daoud said he was “sleeping in the streets.” His lawyer said Al-Daoud did not know the language, had never been to the country, had no familial relations there and was suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.
On Tuesday, Al-Daoud was reported dead in Iraq by his lawyer.
“Jimmy’s death has devastated his family and us. We knew he would not survive if deported,” said Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney with ACLU of Michigan who is litigating the Hamma v. Adducci case involving the Iraqi nationals who have been deported or are awaiting deportation.
The advocacy group In Defense of Christians (IDC), released a statement on Thursday acknowledging that the U.S. “acted within its rights in deporting an unlawful resident” but that the situation in Iraq is still very dangerous for Christians.
The U.S. in 2016 recognized that Christians and other ethnic and religious minorities in Iraq and Syria were victims of genocide by ISIS. Although the ISIS territorial caliphate has been removed from Iraq, there are still an estimated 15,000 ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, along with Iran-backed militias who have reportedly been targeting and harassing Christians in Northern Iraq.
Local leaders in the Detroit metropolitan area—including Congressman Andy Levin (D-Mich.), State Rep. Mari Manoogian (D), and Martin Manna, the president of the Chaldean Community Foundation—have said they are working with Iraqi officials to have Al-Daoud’s body repatriated to the U.S. for a Catholic burial.
Rep. Levin released a statement on Thursday saying that “for many reasons, it was clear that deporting Jimmy to a country where he had never been, had no identification, had no family, had no knowledge of geography or customs, did not speak the language and ultimately, had no access to medical care, would put his life in extreme danger.”
Levin said that “at the moment, Iraqi authorities will not release Jimmy’s body to a Catholic priest without extensive documentation from his family members in the U.S. This seems to be a cruel irony, indeed. I am working with the Iraqi government to make sure this process happens as quickly and smoothly as possible.”
Many Chaldean families in the Detroit metro area “fled [Iraq] mainly due to persecution,” Manna told CNA, “and have not been in that country for 30 or 40 years in most cases.”
Many who have been deported or are awaiting deportation do not have family in Iraq or do not know the language, he said. The foundation said it had reached out the Chaldean Catholic Patriarchate in Iraq to see if deportees can be helped or supported there.
Manoogian, who represents many Chaldean-Americans in a district adjacent to the one Al-Daoud had resided in, told CNA that the community has been “grieving the loss” and that her Chaldean friends are “devastated and distraught.”
Al-Daoud was one of more than 1,000 Iraqi nationals apprehended by ICE in 2017 and given a final order of removal by an immigration judge. The Iraqis had come to the U.S. legally but either failed to apply for a green card or had committed a misdemeanor or felony that disqualified them from citizenship.
Many of the Chaldeans in the Detroit metropolitan area who were apprehended by the agency in June of 2017 had lived in the U.S. for decades; ICE said that their criminal history included homicide, rape, sexual assault, kidnapping, and “weapons violations,” although local leaders said many of the crimes had been committed decades prior.
The ACLU sued ICE arguing that the detainees faced threats of persecution, torture or death in Iraq and needed an opportunity to prove a credible fear of such before an immigration judge.
In December of 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court decision and ruled that the court could not stop the deportations.
Iraq had initially refused to accept the Chaldeans, but eventually agreed to do so in order to be removed from a list of countries on the Trump administration’s “travel ban.”
Levin, along with Rep. John Mollenaar (R-Mich.), has introduced the Deferred Removal for Iraqi Nationals Including Minorities Act to allow the detainees to make their case against deportation in an immigration court.