As It Happens

Diabetic U.S. man dies after being deported to Iraq — a country he'd never been to

Before he died, Jimmy Aldaoud pleaded for help in a video: "I don't understand the language. I'm sleeping in the street. I'm diabetic. I take insulin shots."

'Deporting Jimmy Aldaoud was a death sentence,' says Congressman Andy Levin

Jimmy Aldaoud, a diabetic man who spent his whole life in Detroit, died in Iraq after he was deported to the country he'd never set foot in. (Edward A. Bajoka/Facebook )


Before Jimmy Aldaoud died alone in Iraq, he pleaded for help.

The 41-year-old man was born in Greece to Iraqi refugees who brought him to the U.S. as a small child. Greece doesn't have birthright citizenship, so he was considered an Iraqi national.

He spent his entire life in Detroit. He had diabetes and paranoid schizophrenia. He was in and out of jail, and often lived on the streets. Both of his parents have died. 

Just over two months ago, he was deported by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Iraq which cited his criminal record. 

"I don't understand the language," Aldaoud said in a video shared to Facebook by his family's immigration lawyer. "I'm sleeping in the street. I'm diabetic. I take insulin shots. I've been throwing up, throwing up, sleeping in the street, trying to find something to eat. I've got nothing over here."

Aldaoud died on Tuesday in Baghdad, likely due to a lack of insulin. 

Andy Levin, a Democratic congressman for Michigan, says it never should have happened. Here is part of his conversation with As It Happens guest host Piya Chattopadhyay. 

How is it that someone who was born in Greece and lived nearly their entire life in the United States, who does not speak Arabic, end up getting deported to Iraq?

He never was able to become a citizen, really, because he had mental health problems from his teenage years. Everybody else in his family became a U.S. citizen ... but he never did.

Then once Mr. Trump became president, he had it in for anybody who is not a citizen, I guess. And he's been deporting Iraqi nationals at a steady and horrifying clip.

ICE look on after executing search warrants an agricultural processing facility in Canton, Miss., on Thursday. (ICE/Reuters)

U.S. Immigration officials [told Politico] the reason for Mr. Aldaoud's deportation is that he had racked up 20 convictions over as many years, including assault with a dangerous weapon, domestic violence and home invasion. Is that your understanding?

Mr. Aldaoud was mentally ill and a drug addict from his teenage years, and he got in trouble with the law repeatedly. He was homeless most of the time.

But the home invasion that they cite is a joke. He went into someone's garage and took a couple of drills and then closed the garage door to sell the drills because he was a drug addict.

He was, you know, someone who was admittedly deeply, deeply troubled.

So that's the state of our country. We're deporting people like that.

I suppose their argument is that ... he had criminal convictions, and so he was able to be deported under U.S. law.

Let's look at what ICE actually did. They picked him up off the streets of Detroit. They threatened him that if he didn't go along quietly, they would make it difficult for him. They did not allow him to make a phone call. They didn't allow him to get any money or pack a suitcase.

He was a diabetic. He had very little insulin with him. And they flew him to Najaf in Iraq.

They dumped him there and he really had no chance to survive under those conditions. It was a death sentence. Deporting Jimmy Aldaoud was a death sentence.

Tell me what sense you have of what his life was like for him in Iraq prior to his death.

His family found out about the deportation when they got WhatsApp calls ... from a strange number. And when they finally answered one, it was Jimmy crying and screaming on the other end, saying that he'd been deported.

They calmed him down and got him to give the phone to the person whose phone it was. And it was a security guard in the Najaf airport.

And he said, "What am I supposed to do with this guy? Why is he here? Why did they send him here? He has no documents. He has no money. He has no clothes. What can I do with him?"

Let's take a moment and appreciate the goodness of regular Iraqis and regular Americans, not the government. This guy kept him protected inside the airport until his family could get someone from Baghdad to go get him.

After that, he lived in hiding ... because he didn't have any documents that allowed him to move about. 

He was desperately ill because of his diabetes, and he lacked insulin after just a few days. He was throwing up. His sister finally got him to go to the hospital and he went once and they gave him a shot or something and sent him back.

When he died, he was in a room by himself. When other people nearby went in ... he was on the floor with a plate that had fallen and broken. He was trying to get something to eat and he collapsed. So he died alone, very ill.

Donald J Trump is responsible for his death.- Andy Levin, U.S. congressman

You spoke to family members of Mr. Aldaoud earlier this year about their fears and their anger. What did they tell you about that at that time?

They felt like there was no way that he could survive there.

Just imagine if you're in your 30s and 40s and you have a 41-year-old sibling who you've had to try to keep alive in Canada or the U.S. by supporting him, trying to get him in rehab, trying to make sure he takes his insulin. It would be inconceivable to you that someone like that could survive in Iraq.

I was born and raised in the U.S. I would say to you this guy is as American as I am.

I mean, the very idea of America is, you know, a family like his fleeing Saddam Hussein could come and make a new life in our country. And they did. It's a beautiful family. And this troubled child of the family was deported to his really virtually certain death. 

We've got to stop this from happening.

Who do you hold responsible for his death?

Donald J Trump is responsible for his death.

There have been Iraqi nationals who came to our country and got in some form of trouble for many decades. And, you know, my congressional district has more Iraqi-born people than any other of the 435 congressional districts. So I know a lot of these cases intimately.

Someone may have had a drug problem, or they may have gotten in a fist fight, or they may have served time in jail in the '80s or '90s or the aughts. But now they're like a middle-aged guy — almost all of them are men — raising a family, working, paying taxes. Many of them have their own businesses.

And now, all of a sudden, Donald Trump wants to deport all these people.

I've proposed bipartisan legislation to stop this, and we continue to reach out to President Trump, Vice-President [Mike] Pence and their staff to stop it administratively, which they certainly could.

But if not, I hope we can get our legislation passed that would stop the deportation and give every one of these people that most American of opportunities, just to have their day in court before an immigration judge where they could ask whether their personal circumstances and current conditions in Iraq really make it sensible for our government to deport them there.

You announced today that Mr. Aldaoud's body will be returned to Michigan for a Catholic funeral service to have the religious service that he and his family were members of that faith. What will this mean for his family? Have you talked to them about this?

I talk to them every day. [voice cracks] Excuse me.

You know, they didn't even feel like they could ask for this.

I said, "Well, just let me check things out."

And the leadership of their community said, you know, that they would make it possible financially.

His sister said that he loved his mom so much she wanted him to be buried next to his mom. So that's what'll happen, I guess.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview produced by Richard Raycraft. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.