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Sent ‘home’

ICE agents are rounding up more Iraqi Christians living with legal status in the United States, as questions mount over the death of Jimmy Aldaoud

Sent ‘home’

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

In essence, Jimmy Aldaoud was what lawyers call low-hanging fruit. The 41-year-old Detroit suburb resident had more than 20 convictions, the most notable for assault and stealing power tools from a garage in 2012. Family and friends say doctors believed he was bipolar with schizoaffective disorder, plus he was a diabetic. 

In the eyes of immigration authorities, the Iraqi national was ripe for deportation. While his parents and an older sister long ago became U.S. citizens, Aldaoud remained a permanent legal resident, homeless and troubled, and subject to removal. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained him in late May and put him on a commercial flight to Iraq, along with about six others. Aldaoud appeared a rank criminal element lawfully deported, helping to justify hundreds of ICE arrests and deportations continuing this summer.

But Aldaoud’s case instead has been sensationalized after family members disclosed on Aug. 7 that he had died in Iraq, apparently unable to obtain insulin there and succumbing to diabetes. His death rocked Detroit’s Iraqi Christian community, where Aldaoud grew up. Cases like his have been pending since 2017 when ICE raided Chaldean sites and detained 114 Iraqi Americans who’ve lived in the United States for decades, threatening to deport them to a country where Christians like them continue to face genocide.

Instead of paving the way for more removals as the Trump administration seeks to tighten U.S. immigration policy, Aldaoud’s fate is likely to lead to further legal action to halt deportations, and to a congressional inquiry into cruelty and mishandling by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

When immigration authorities arrested Aldaoud in May, they put him on a commercial flight to Najaf instead of Baghdad. A city of 1 million people south of the Iraqi capital, Najaf is one of the holiest cities for Muslim Shiites, and a center for anti-American hostility. U.S. forces fought a major battle at Najaf during the 2003 invasion. Revered Shiite leader Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim was killed there in a 2003 car bombing, sparking the country’s Sunni-Shiite insurgency. 

Aldaoud, who did not speak Arabic, arrived in Najaf without a passport or other documents, with only a little insulin, and no community. There are no Assyrian or Chaldean Christians in Najaf. He lived on the streets, unable to navigate checkpoints or government services without identification. In a video message sent to family and friends in Detroit just before his death, he said he was sick, out of insulin, and had been beaten for sleeping on someone’s property.


Jimmy Aldaoud (Facebook)

Besides questions about why he was sent to Najaf, attorneys involved in the Aldaoud case told me U.S. authorities did not have to send him to Iraq at all. A third country had agreed to accept Aldaoud—but U.S. officials refused. 

Third-country repatriation is not uncommon when deportees cannot safely return to their own country. “In diplomacy-speak, the United States has to make the request and a third country can accept,” explained Steven Oshana, executive director of A Demand For Action, a Washington-based advocacy group working on behalf of Iraqi victims of genocide since ISIS invaded Iraq in 2014. “We had a commitment from a third country, but the administration was not interested.”

Oshana would not name the country, due to ongoing cases he hopes can receive third-country repatriation, and DHS has not responded to requests for comment. 

Oshana said cases for Iraqi nationals could be handled differently: “The cruelty is the point for ICE, it seems,” said Oshana. “We had a third country ready to accept him, and they insisted he go back to Iraq. For so long we’ve been arguing that returning these people to Iraq would be a death sentence, and in this case it was.”

Oshana said cases for Iraqi nationals could be handled differently: “The cruelty is the point for ICE, it seems,” said Oshana. “We had a third country ready to accept him, and they insisted he go back to Iraq. For so long we’ve been arguing that returning these people to Iraq would be a death sentence, and in this case it was.”

Aldaoud was born in Greece, not Iraq, and immigrated to the United States with his Iraqi parents as part of a refugee resettlement program when he was 15 months old. For nearly four decades he considered himself an American and had never set foot in Iraq. 

In 2017 ICE began to detain about 1,400 Iraqis legally residing in the United States but eligible for deportation due to criminal records. Most understood their legal limbo, attorneys told me, and made regular appearances to ICE offices as part of the condition of remaining in America. But in 2017 circumstances changed. The Trump administration, as part of an agreement to remove Iraq from its list of travel ban countries, persuaded Iraqi leaders for the first time to accept deportees. 

That June, agents raided a Detroit-area Chaldean church during Mass and restaurants frequented by the U.S. Iraqi Christian community, which numbers nearly 200,000 people in Detroit and dates back several generations. About 114 men were arrested and sent to a detention center in Ohio. Clarence Dass, a Detroit lawyer who was born in the United States to Iraqi parents, at one time handled 25 of the 114 cases. The ACLU also stepped in with a class-action lawsuit, and a federal judge stayed most of the deportations while the cases were adjudicated. Aldaoud, in jail at the time for giving false information to a police officer, was transferred by ICE to the Ohio facility, and his case became part of the ACLU suit. 

The raids coincided with Trump efforts directing a coalition battle to defeat ISIS in Iraq, a terrorist group the United States in 2016 had formally declared was committing genocide against Christians. Iraq was too dangerous, attorneys argued, to send back the detainees.

Nearly all of the cases Dass handled have been adjudicated, he said: “All are nearly exactly similar but each has been handled very differently” by authorities. 

One of his clients, an Iraqi living more than 30 years in the United States, was convicted of a drug crime and served eight years in prison. Completely rehabilitated, he has a wife and two children and a successful business and is involved in community work through churches and synagogues. Yet in 2017, ICE arrested and detained him based on the drug conviction. Dass sought in court a pardon for the conviction, which was granted by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican. With his criminal record expunged, ICE removed the deportation order against him.

Another case involves a man with a 2010 drug conviction who applied for a pardon and did not receive it. He too runs his own business, has a wife and three children, and was detained in 2017. Now free, the deportation order against him remains, “a source of great mental anguish every day,” said Dass.

All currently reside legally in the United States, points out Dass, and currently are productive residents with a 20-30 year history of living in the United States. Yet any could be removed by ICE like Aldaoud, without notice, and sent to Iraq, where they have no ties.

This month an Iraqi official told Reuters news service ICE had rounded up about 100 such Iraqis in the Detroit area, along with Kurdish Iraqis living in Nashville. The official said Iraq would issue travel documents for the deportees if they can be proven “to be ‘Iraqi’ based on our records and investigation.”

Oshana said talks were underway with members of Congress to do more, and several lawmakers expressed an interest in holding hearings in light of Aldaoud’s death. They would also consider legislation to restrict such deportations, particularly to countries where genocide has taken place, and to require U.S. immigration officers to provide six months of needed medication and other necessities in the event of removal. 

But Congress and the Trump administration also need to address the ongoing cruelty in breaking up families and upending businesses, leading to lasting economic hardship for such communities. U.S. authorities could resolve many of the Iraqi cases, but instead have used taxpayer funds to detain the Iraqis and litigate nearly every case individually.

News of Aldaoud’s death appeared on Aug. 7, a date Iraqi Christians know well. It’s the anniversary of the 1933 Simele Massacre in northern Iraq, when thousands of Assyrian Christians were killed and more than 60 villages destroyed by Iraqi forces. “The biggest casualty of this entire conflict has been the Christians,” said Dass, “and now, even here, that continues.”


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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 08/10/2019 12:21 am

    A great article--thank you Mindy.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Sat, 08/10/2019 10:58 am

    Recently the 302s were released to Judicial Watch showing the origin of the “Russian Collusion story against Trump”!

    These documents show the partisan attempt at a coup d’eta against Trump and reveals the true origin of the Russian Collusion hoax!  Ironically, World Magazine has not reported anything about this, when this is critical to understand the Democrats attempted propaganda campaign against Trump focused on getting him removed from office. In striving to report the truth, you need to examine the evidence as Christian reporters. 

    One of the salient points gathered from these reports was the brazen attempt by government employees in the justice department to create the false perspective that Trump was a puppet of the Russians!  This was done while Trump WAS president. 

    So if there are partisan government employees in the Justice Department seeking to inflict injury against the president, could there not be more partisan hacks hidden away in Homeland Security or the State Department? Could they not have animosity against the Christians and seek injury to Trump by making his policies fail? Of course, to uncover the real story you must do real investigation journalism which is not easy to do!

    There could also be another angle on this story where recently a Syrian was caught attempting to kill other immigrant Christians by working with ISIS in Iraq.

    Just perhaps the government workers were afraid that they would neglectfully allow in a terrorist by letting in people with little verifiable history.  What if they were just trying to do their job the best they could given the information given them? And if they get it wrong, there could be hundreds, or even thousands of Americans dead - not a fun responsibility to bear! Now reporters have the audacity to come in after the fact, and claim, “How did they not see the poor immigrant would be killed?” or “Why didn’t they see all the terrorists they were letting into America?”

    It is so easy for a reporter to be a Monday morning quarterback! 

    Now I have laid out two possible scenarios but honestly they could both be right where some are trying to subvert the president and others are just trying to do their jobs the best they can! 

  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Sat, 08/10/2019 11:28 am

    James the Just wrote, "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13, ESV).  We are in danger of committing a national sin, if we have not committed it already.  God will grant us what mercy we grant to others.  Judgment weighs too heavily on these scales.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Posted: Tue, 08/20/2019 08:59 pm

    All I was doing was trying to get Mindy to look at it from a different perspective!  I was challenging her to look deeper at the issues and push her investigation skills to get the real story- whatever it is.  Most of us work and don’t have time to dig into this but this is Mindy’s job and I want more than an anti-Trump sound bite - though the article wasn’t necessarily bad. I just expect a little more from her, than the other journalists, given her experience. I have read her articles over the many years and yes she is good though I don’t always agree with her. 

  •  JEFF's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/03/2019 01:00 pm

    Would your opinion be the same had you or a loved been assaulted by this man? Or what if he had stolen thousands of dollars worth of the tools of your trade leaving unable to work?

    For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong. H. L. Mencken

    Or in the words of the writer of Proverbs, 'The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.'

    World has settled on an open borders editorial stance and ignores the law or need for borders. Mindy's writing advances this.

  • SamIamHis
    Posted: Sat, 08/10/2019 12:34 pm

    This report of what has happened to Iraquis is probably as accurate as it can be from the perspective of Mindy Belz.  Her reporting is always excellent and full of mercy.  Yet when I take a step back and begin to look at the full scope of what immigration officials, ICE agents, and this administration deal with every day it begins to gain another perspective.  They are so overwhelmed with the volume of immigrant numbers and the ensuing issues they bring, it becomes next to impossible to sort out and accomplish what is right in all situations. 

    Our legislative leaders have refused to deal with the real problems of immigration for decades. Now, instead of recognizing the true humanitarian cost to the immigrants and the citizens of the United States, they sit on their hands and point fingers to the other side of the aisle, throwing cheap accusations at one another, behaving like children who cannot have their way.  They have lost sight of The Way, The Truth and The Light if it was ever in their sights.  Our whole country is in great jeopardy because, on the whole, our nation has rejected the truth that has been made plain to all men.  Worse yet, we have rejected the remedy for the sin that so easily besets us.  The glorious vision of our founders is tarnished to a degree of possibly no return. 

    My heart is saddened at the symptoms of sin that I read about in every issue of World.  I love the call to do better and work hard in this regard, but there is no hope except in Jesus.

    We have to pray for our leaders and pray for them without ceasing.  If God holds the hearts of the kings in his hand, our leaders are subject to that same power.  The power of a sovereign God.  Nothing escapes his purview or his will and we need to pray to that end.  I often pray that the very office that God allowed President Trump to occupy will be what humbles him and draws him to know true repentance and salvation.  My other prayer is for true repentance to fall upon our nation.  We are all in need of this and nothing less will do.  

  • JerryM
    Posted: Sun, 08/11/2019 02:37 am

    I agree about the quality of Mindy's reporting.  I agree even more about the challenging work ICE and US immigration services have to undertake.  Can I suggest World highlight some of the good work being undertaken by these agencies?

  •  JEFF's picture
    Posted: Tue, 09/03/2019 12:50 pm

    ICE is cruel? Was this claim investigated? ICE is a law enforcement agency. There are laws, rules, regulations, policies, process. He was a criminal. Could he have been processed thusly? World's lawless, open border editorial stance does a great diservice to those who are charged wtih protecting them.