Body of deported Iraqi refugee to be returned to Michigan

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Jimmy Al-Daoud, a homeless refugee who was found dead after he was deported to Iraq, will be returned to Michigan to be buried next to his family members, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin announced Friday.

Al-Daoud, a mentally ill and diabetic refugee, 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 the family traveled from Greece to Detroit when Al-Daoud was about a year old. 


On Tuesday, The Detroit News reported his death based on family accounts. His family and friends in the U.S. say Al-Daoud, who they say was bipolar and schizophrenic, had been living on the streets in Baghdad with two other men who had been deported the same day. He was 41 years old. 

They 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." 

ICE declined further comment Friday, 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."

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Levin’s office with local Iraqi and American officials have initiated the process of transferring Al-Daoud’s remains to Michigan. The process of transferring the remains is expected to be completed later this month, Levin said.

"Jimmy’s deportation was a death sentence," Levin said in a statement. "Ensuring the safe return of Jimmy’s body to the United States is the least I could do for Jimmy’s family as they grieve during this tragedy. Now, per Jimmy’s family’s wishes, he can receive a proper Catholic funeral and be buried next to his mother in Michigan, the only home he has ever known." 

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said the request to return Al-Daoud's remains was submitted to the Iraqi Consul, who willingly helped expedite the request, he said. The Chaldean Community Foundation is covering the costs associated with repatriating Al-Daoud's body and is aiding the family for his funeral arrangments.

"We're working on getting the funeral home his family is buried at to accept him, but it's difficult because he'd not a U.S. citizen, but we're working to make any arrangements work for this family," Manna said.

Al-Daoud's body remains at a hospital in Iraq, and it's unclear when a plane will be available to transport him. A funeral has not been planned.

"I’m glad that my office could give Jimmy’s family this small sense of solace, but to honor his memory, we still must do everything we can to prevent another death by deportation," Levin said.

His sister, Rita Al-Daoud, said their family is joyed to have their brother back, but "wish it wasn't in a casket," she told The News on Friday.

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.

"My mother died four years ago and we want him laid to rest next to her because he was really close with my mom," said Al-Daoud, 30. "My father and grandparents are at the same cemetery as well. We'd like to plan a funeral for our family, but we will have to wait to see when his body can be brought here."

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 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. "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.

"His sugar was spiking out of control, (and he was) vomiting and then passing out. He was more than just weak, he was sick with his anxiety and depression taking over," she said. "He said he would rather be in jail in the U.S. than be stuck there unable to communicate with anyone in a place he's never been. He wasn't even born there ... I don't see how this happened."

Al-Daoud left his home in Hazel Park and lived on the streets.

ICE defended his deportation, saying his criminal history includes assault with a dangerous weapon, failure to appear in court, malicious destruction of property, resisting, obstructing police, and marijuana possession.

Immigration officials said he was ordered to be removed in 2005 but was never issued travel papers for deportation to Iraq.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider also declined to comment.

Protecting others

Manna said while they are thankful for Levin and those who arranged the return of Al-Daoud, they are calling on President Donald Trump to "take immediate action to stop these inhumane deportations."

Levin and Republican Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland say they want Congress to act on a bill to pause Iraqi deportations Al-Daoud's death. 

Moolenaar has appealed to House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy to raise the issue with President Donald Trump and request that he stop further deportations of Iraqi nationals by supporting the bill or issuing a Deferred Enforced Departure, a form of relief from removals.

"This never should have happened, and no one should be sent to a country where they are going to be persecuted for their faith," Moolenaar said in a statement. "Congressman Levin and I will be working to move our bill forward in the House, but we also believe the (Trump) administration could end this policy on its own and really help Michigan families and their loved ones."

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, left, D-District 9, and U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-District 4, applaud one of the speakers during a press conference announcing a bi-partisan bill they cowrote that would provide a 2-year period of relief to Iraqi nationals facing deportation on May 3, 2019.  The bill would allow time for Iraqi nationals' cases to be heard in the courts.

Michigan’s 9th District, represented by Levin, has the largest Iraqi-born community of any congressional district in the country, according to census data. Levin said they sent letters to Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and are working with the executive branch requesting intervention. 

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 raid followed Trump's executive order barring admission into the U.S. of nationals from seven countries, including Iraq. Detainees were being held in correctional facilities while it was uncertain if Iraq would accept repatriated detainees at that time. 

Some Iraqi nationals, including Al-Daoud, were released in December after years in detention based on the ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Mark Goldsmith, who said ICE could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals while seeking to deport them.

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.

Twitter: @SarahRahal_