BEFORE HE WAS DEPORTED, Jimmy Aldaoud had never stepped foot in Iraq. Born in Greece to Iraqi refugee parents, he immigrated to the United States with his family via a refugee resettlement program 40 years ago, when he was just 15 months old. He considered himself American and knew hardly anything of Iraqi society. Still, on the afternoon of June 4, he found himself wandering the arrivals terminal of Al Najaf International Airport, about 100 miles south of Baghdad, with around $50, some insulin for his diabetes, and the clothes on his back.
Aldaoud was used to getting by with little. For most of his adult life, he had experienced homelessness, working odd jobs, and stealing loose change from cars as he grappled with mental illness. But that was in the relative comfort of his hometown—for decades, he rarely strayed more than a few miles from his parents’ house in Hazel Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit. He had no idea how to survive in Iraq, and he was unprepared to make a run at it; he hadn’t known his deportation would come so soon, and officials with Immigration and Customs Enforcement wouldn’t let him call his family before they sent him off.
Aldaoud spoke no Arabic, had no known family in Iraq, and nobody knew he was there. Disembarking in Najaf, he was “scared,” “confused,” and acting panicked, according to an Iraqi immigration officer he encountered.
And 63 days later—this past Tuesday—he was dead.
For weeks before his death, The Intercept had been digging into Aldaoud’s story. He was one of a number of people who have been deported as a result of an ongoing ICE crackdown on Iraqi communities—a crackdown advocates say has recklessly placed deportees in danger. His mental illness, his lack of language skills and connections, and his struggle with diabetes—the likely cause of his untimely passing—made Aldaoud especially vulnerable. His story was intended to raise alarms about the possible human toll of ICE’s actions. Now, it’s a testament to it.
“He died alone,” said Mary Bolis, one of Aldaoud’s three sisters. “It’s unfair.”