Lawmakers: Stop deportations in light of death of refugee deported to Iraq

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The death of a deported mentally ill and diabetic Iraqi refugee has set off a furor among immigration advocates and lawmakers, who are calling for an immediate halt to deportations in light of his death.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin of Bloomfield Township and Republican Rep. John Moolenaar of Midland say they want Congress to act on a bill to pause Iraqi deportations after Jimmy Al-Daoud, 41, was deported from Detroit on June 2 and found dead in Baghdad on Tuesday.

After working with U.S. and Iraqi Consulates, Al-Daoud's body will be returned to Michigan later this month, Levin announced Friday. 

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 in West Bloomfield in May.

"I think this case symbolizes the almost loss of humanity in this situation," said Levin. "What are we talking about here? A bipolar, schizophrenic guy with diabetes who is more American than you or me. Everyone knows he couldn’t survive. He could barely survive here."

The bipartisan bill, the Deferred Removal for Iraqi Nationals Including Minorities Act of 2019, was introduced in May. The bill would delay deportations for Iraqi nationals for two years until their cases have been heard in immigration court.

The News reported his death, based on family accounts, on Tuesday. His family and friends in the United States 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. They said he died from not being able to find medication but ICE said at deportation, "he was supplied with a full complement of medicine to ensure continuity of care." 

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, Levin said.

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. 

Representatives for McCarthy and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi did not immediately respond for comment.

Levin's opinion: Iraqi nationals deserve fairness

Immigration officials, meanwhile, defended Al-Daoud's deportation, saying he had an "extensive criminal history involving no less than 20 convictions between 1998–2017" including breaking and entering, and domestic violence involving his father.

"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.," ICE officials said. 

His attorneys say Al-Daoud, who had lived in the U.S. from the time he was 1 and had never been to Iraq, had severe mental health issues. They said they are devastated and the U.S. government's action amounted to a death sentence.

"We knew he would not survive if deported," said attorney Miriam Aukerman with the ACLU, which is litigating a lawsuit to protect Iraqi nationals from deportation. 

"What we don’t know is how many more people ICE will send to their deaths."

Back in a place he never lived

Al-Daoud was born at 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. 

Jimmy Al-Daoud

Al-Daoud left his home in Shelby Township and lived on the streets.

ICE said 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. 

After Trump's election, Al-Daoud was swept up with 1,400 Iraqis in nationwide ICE raids in June 2017 and placed in detention with orders of removal for his convictions. He was later granted a motion to reopen his immigration case as a plaintiff in Hamama v. Adducci, a nationwide class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Michigan in 2017. He remained in detention, his case was denied again and he was ordered to deport to Iraq in May 2018. Al-Daoud waived his right to appeal that decision, ICE said.

U.S. District Judge Mark Goldsmith in his Nov. 20 ruling said the federal government could not indefinitely detain foreign nationals and Iraqi detainees, allowing Al-Daoud to be released in December on surveillance.

Al-Daoud cut his ankle tether in April and was arrested by officers for larceny from a motor vehicle. ICE agents re-detained him and placed him June 2 on a plane to Iraq.

► Fearing deportation, Iraqi refugees cut tethers

Al-Daoud was found dead Tuesday by one of the men he was deported with. A month earlier, 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. 

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

"We didn't know he was deported until he called us crying and pleading for help from Iraq," Al-Daoud said. "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 Bagdad. 

Rita Al-Daoud, 30, 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."

Katherine Marcuz, Al-Daoud's former public defender on his 2015 home invasion case, said she was shocked to learn what happened to him. She said he had prior convictions, but only one felony aside from the home invasion in 2015. Most, she said, were misdemeanors related to him not having a stable place to live. 

"Illegal entry, running from police, disorderly conduct ... all non-violent misdemeanors connected to being homeless," Marcuz said. "He didn't have a serious history when I defended him and then this invasion case, he entered someone’s garage, took three cordless drills, closed the garage behind him and left. This wasn't the home invasion of the century."

Al-Daoud decided to represent himself on occasion and was often found incompetent to stand trial.

Protecting others

Rep. Andy Levin (right) speaks with Sam Hamana during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Levin said he worked around the clock not only with Moolenaar to reach the Trump administration, but with the Iraqi consulates to transport Al-Daoud's remains back to the U.S.

Both of Al-Daoud's parents are dead and his three siblings hope the U.S. and Iraqi government can coordinate bringing his remains to be laid to rest beside his mother in a Southfield cemetery.

"He needs to be repatriated so he can receive a dignified Catholic funeral and be buried next to his mother in Michigan, the only home he has ever known," Levin said.

"It's a shame. Why is it the only way he can hopefully be here is in a coffin?"

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.

In December, Trump signed Iraq and Syria Genocide Emergency Relief and Accountability Act to aid Christians and other religious minorities victimized by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Martin Manna, president of the Chaldean Community Foundation, said Iraq remains dangerous with less than 200,000 Chaldeans remaining in Iraq.

"Pence aided the (emergency relief act), helping rebuild villages and lives in Iraq after ISIS, but our communities still live in fear," Manna said. "Iran is patrolling most of our neighborhoods with militia, and (the) government keeps passing laws against Christianity ... we, as U.S. government, issued travel advisories, and then at the same time, send people back to that country."

A large crowd gathered during a meeting concerning the Iraqi deportations at the Chaldean Community Center on Saturday, April 6, 2019.

Other detainees have cut their tethers like Al-Daoud to protest deportation. After at least seven men did so, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider said cutting tethers will not protect Iraqi nationals from removal.

"People who are lawfully ordered to be deported who then obstruct their deportation by cutting off monitoring devices (tethers) or fleeing from ICE are subject to criminal prosecution, and so is anyone who harbors, transports or conceals such fugitives," the statement said. "Our office will not turn a blind eye to anyone who cuts off a tether, or who assists someone in doing so."

Since the ICE raids, they feel betrayed by Trump, Manna said, after Christian Iraqis helped elect him in 2016.

"There's been a lot of anxiety in the community since the Court of Appeals upheld the state of removal and ...installed fear that more people can be sent back," he said. "From my understanding, there's a list of people that are still in motion to be deported and I'm hopeful from what happened to Jimmy that it will bring change, and his death will have purpose."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_