IRBIL, Iraq — Life was a struggle for Jimmy Aldaoud. He was bipolar and schizophrenic, and battled depression and diabetes. He got into trouble, frequently landing in jail or on the street in and around Detroit, where he grew up.
Then, in June, he was deported to Iraq, and life got even more difficult. He had never set foot there before, his family said. He did not understand Arabic. He did not have enough medicine.
And he was alone. His three sisters did not even know he had been sent there until he called them from the city of Najaf.
Aldaoud, 41, died in Baghdad on Tuesday, after days of vomiting blood and begging to return to the United States.
“He was sort of doomed from the beginning,” said Edward Bajoka, an immigration lawyer who is in touch with Aldaoud’s family.
Aldaoud’s experience illustrates the dire consequences that noncitizens living in the United States may face if they are deported to countries they have not seen in decades, or ever. Aldaoud was officially an Iraqi, but he was born in a refugee camp in Greece and entered the United States legally in 1979 at the age of 6 months.
Almost as soon as Aldaoud left the airport in Najaf, Iraq, he would have been unable to read the signs or understand the conversations all around him. Everything from the scorching summer sun to the electricity cuts that punctuate the days would have been strange.
“He was literally crying every day,” his sister Rita Aldaoud, 30, said in an interview, adding that Aldaoud told her he would rather be back in an American jail.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit said in an unsigned statement that Aldaoud, whose name is sometimes spelled Al-Daoud, was ordered removed from the United States in May 2018 after at least 20 criminal convictions over the previous two decades, including assault with a weapon, domestic violence and home invasion. While awaiting deportation, he was released in December with a GPS tracker, but he cut it off, the agency said. Local police arrested him in April on a larceny charge, and he was finally deported on June 2.
After about two weeks in Iraq, Aldaoud lamented his harrowing situation in a video that was posted on Facebook.
“They wouldn’t let me call my family, nothing,” he says of U.S. immigration officers in the video. “I begged them. I said: ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country. I’ve never been there.’”
Aldaoud, sitting on the ground, says he had been sleeping in the street and struggling to find food. “I’ve got nothing over here, as you can see,” he says.
In the video, a cross tattoo can be seen on his forearm. Aldaoud is a Chaldean Catholic; in mainly Muslim Iraq, Christians are a minority that has shrunk considerably since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
Shortly after the video was posted, the Rev. Martin Hermiz, spokesman for Iraq’s Christian Endowment, found Aldaoud’s cellphone number and called him to ask if he needed help.
“He said, ‘No — if anyone wants to help me, let Trump know my situation here in Iraq so maybe he can have mercy on me and bring me back to America,’” Hermiz recalled, adding that Aldaoud also turned down an offer to stay in a church, saying he wanted to live alone and pay his rent himself.
The small apartment Aldaoud found was in a working-class Christian neighborhood of Baghdad, where there are churches and women can walk comfortably without headscarves.
Hermiz said he did not hear from Aldaoud again, but he did get a call from a friend of Aldaoud, who said he had taken Aldaoud to a Baghdad hospital because he was vomiting blood. The hospital gave him medication and sent him home, Hermiz said.
Rita Aldaoud said her brother had similar symptoms in the past when his blood sugar spiked. In the last few days of his life, his family grew worried about his health. When they called him, she said, “he would answer and say, ‘I can’t talk,’ and you could hear he was throwing up.”
A Baghdad neighbor found him dead in his apartment Tuesday morning.
Politicians have expressed outrage at ICE before over the deaths of asylum-seekers who have been killed after being deported.
“We knew he would not survive if deported,” said Miriam Aukerman, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan.
Rep. Andy Levin, a Democrat who represents the district in metropolitan Detroit where Aldaoud used to live, said he did not have to die. “His death could have and should have been prevented, as his deportation was essentially a death sentence,” Levin said in a statement.
Aldaoud has had trouble believing that her brother could have been deported to a country in which he had never set foot.
“It’s baffling, I don’t understand it,” Rita Aldaoud said. “We’re still dumbfounded, to be honest.”
“It was a shock to find out he’d passed, but to be honest, I didn’t know how he would make it there,” she added.
For now, Aldaoud’s body is in the Baghdad morgue. An Iraqi court has ordered an investigation into the cause of his death, and Dr. Ziad Ali, the country’s forensic medical examiner, said he thought it would be another month before pathology and tests are complete.
No one is sure what will happen to his body after that, Hermiz said: “We are looking for relatives to receive him, but what a pity it is that there are no relatives to receive him here in Iraq.”