Body of refugee deported to Iraq on way to Detroit

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — Jimmy Al-Daoud, a refugee who was found dead after he was deported from Michigan to Iraq, will be reunited with his family when his casket lands in Detroit Friday, officials told The Detroit News.

Al-Daoud's wooden casket was sealed in the presence of authorities Wednesday afternoon before it took off from Baghdad and is expected to arrive by plane and be taken to an undisclosed location Friday.

Al-Daoud, who was a bipolar schizophrenic and diabetic, was born in a refugee camp in Greece in 1978 after his parents fled Iraq between wars. His family was granted refugee status in the United States in 1979, and they traveled from Greece to Detroit when Al-Daoud was about a year old.

The Detroit News reported his death on Aug. 6 based on family accounts. His family said he had been living on the streets in Baghdad with two other men who had been deported the same day. He was 41.

Jimmy Al-Daoud's wooden casket was sealed by officials before it was sent off from Iraq to be returned to Detroit.

 "Jimmy’s death was an avoidable, unnecessary and predictable tragedy," and many others are facing similar life-threatening circumstances in Iraq, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, D-Royal Oak, said.

"My only hope is that Jimmy’s family feels some sense of relief now that his body can be buried in his home country, next to his mother," he said in a statement Thursday. "Unfortunately, I believe we can expect to learn of more stories like Jimmy’s if deportations of vulnerable Iraqi nationals continue."

Al-Daoud's family said he died from not being able to find medication, but ICE said before his June 2 deportation that "he was supplied with a full complement of medicine to ensure continuity of care." 

Mourners gathered with his family on Aug. 15 for a vigil at the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights.

A private funeral will take place next week, Levin's office said.

Both of Al-Daoud's parents are dead and his three siblings hope they can lay him to rest beside his mother in a Southfield cemetery.

"Jimmy was a sweet person with a good heart," Al-Daoud's three sisters said in a joint statement. "He loved our mom, and we are comforted knowing that he will be laid to rest next to her. We hope Jimmy’s story opens people’s eyes and hearts to understand that we should not be deporting people to their death overseas."

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ICE officials declined to comment further on his case last week, saying, "Al-Daoud’s immigration case underwent an exhaustive judicial review before the courts ultimately affirmed he had no legal basis to remain in the U.S."

Before his death

Rita Al-Daoud said her older brother was diagnosed with mental health issues at a young age, which caused manic episodes, "but he was not evil or malicious."

A month before his death, he sent a video to a longtime friend in which he spoke of the difficulties of not knowing the language in Iraq and being unable to communicate, get insulin for diabetes or find shelter. 

"We didn't know he was deported until he called us crying and pleading for help from Iraq," said Rita Al-Daoud, who now lives in Shelby Township, told The News earlier this month. "They threatened him to get on the plane and wouldn't allow him to call his sisters or his lawyer. They just dropped him off in the airport in a dangerous area with nothing. No ID. Nothing."

Once arriving in Iraq, he begged security to use their phones until he was able to call home. He spent three days in the airport waiting for transportation arranged by family to a room in Baghdad. 

Rita Al-Daoud said in her brother's final days, he became ill with symptoms that he typically would have been hospitalized for in the U.S. Out of fear of going to the hospital where he couldn't communicate, his sister said, he slept on the streets waiting for someone with a phone to walk by speaking English.

Michigan’s 9th District, represented by Levin, has the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the country, according to census data.

Congressman Andy Levin addresses community members at a vigil to remember Jimmy Al-Daoud.

Al-Daoud was one of the targeted plaintiffs in Hamama v. Adducci, a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Michigan in 2017. The ACLU lawsuit was filed after more than 1,400 Iraqi nationals nationwide — 114 from Michigan — were swept up in the 2017 raids.

The ACLU of Michigan has argued in federal court, where the detainees' fates have played out for the past two years, against repatriation to Iraq because, it says, if the men are sent back, they face torture or death because of their Christian faith, for having served in the U.S. military or for seeking U.S. asylum.

Levin and Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland have wanted Congress to act on a bipartisan bill to pause Iraqi deportations since they introduced it in May. The bill would delay deportations for Iraqi nationals for two years until their cases have been heard in immigration court.

Levin and 40 House Democrats also sent a letter following Al-Daoud's death to President Donald Trump, imploring him to end detention and deportations of Iraqi nationals living in the country. / Twitter: @SarahRahal_