U.S. Deports Iraqis Despite Widespread Violence In That Country

Dec 3, 2019
Originally published on December 3, 2019 8:43 am
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U.S. immigration authorities are continuing to deport Iraqis despite the turmoil of anti-government demonstrations in that country. Many of those Iraqis - in the U.S. legally but not American citizens - came to the U.S. as children. As NPR's Jane Arraf reports, most arrive in Iraq without the documents or the skills to get by.

JANE ARRAF, BYLINE: I'm walking up to the apartment where Jimmy Aldaoud lived and died two months after being deported from the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: It's this one.

ARRAF: The electricity is out. There's the whine of a generator in this building, wedged between grocery shops on a downtown street. Daoud was 41. He'd never been to Iraq when he was deported here in the summer. But he had Iraqi citizenship and a string of felony convictions, so Immigration and Customs Enforcement, ICE, picked him up in Michigan, put him on the plane and sent Daoud, a Christian, to the holy Shia city of Najaf.

SAMIR KADA: His family called me. They told me, please go pick up Jimmy. I mean, you know, he ain't got no papers. He ain't got no clothes - nothing, nothing - not even a penny. Anyways, he came, and he went into depression (ph) because he can't - at least I can speak a little bit Arabic; him - not Chaldean, not Arabic, nothing.

ARRAF: That's Samir Kada. He was also part of Michigan's Chaldean Christian community. Kada is covered in tattoos, including Da Vinci's "The Last Supper" inked all the way up his arm. He stands out in Baghdad. He lived next door to Daoud and tried to watch out for him. Two weeks before he died, another deportee recorded a video with Daoud on the street outside. In it, Daoud says he's scared and he's sick.

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JIMMY ALDAOUD: I don't understand the language, anything. I'm diabetic. I take insulin shots. I've been throwing up, throwing up - trying to find something to eat.

ARRAF: Daoud was diabetic and, according to his family, bipolar and schizophrenic. In the U.S., he'd been homeless for years. Kada says ICE deported him with a month's worth of insulin. It's not clear whether they sent him with any other meds. ICE will only say it deported him with an adequate supply of medication. Death records say he died of heart failure.

Kada says Daoud was afraid to leave his apartment. He'd sit around reading the Bible and the Quran and drinking soda and smoking cigarettes. He left his insulin out in the heat.

KADA: He talked to himself all day - God, please take me back home; please, God, I don't know nothing over here. I'm scared. I'm Christian. I'm this; I'm that. He was walking over here naked, like, with no clothes. I told him, we can't do that over here. Like, he was going crazy.

ARRAF: Kada was in Lebanon when Daoud called him - on the floor crying and saying he couldn't breathe. An ambulance took him to hospital, where he was discharged a few hours later. When another Iraqi friend checked on him at home later that day, Daoud was lying on the floor dead. In Daoud's bedroom, there's an unused syringe for the insulin shots he'd forget to take. And on the windowsill, there are two plastic toy guns with orange foam caps and bright pink plastic darts he thought would keep him safe.

KADA: Look. Look. He sleeps with these in his hand. Every time the door opens, what does he do? Like this - every time.

ARRAF: Kada pretends to shoot someone.

KADA: Toy gun, yeah - he got them - he said, if somebody comes, I'm going to pull it on them. I swear to God.

ARRAF: Daoud's death caused an outcry in the Michigan community he was from. His congressman is working on a bill to try to get ICE to put deportations to Iraq on hold. But ICE has kept up the deportations, sending back Iraqis who haven't lived in Iraq for decades - or never lived there - back with no Iraqi ID. Without ID, when they land, they're subject to arrest at checkpoints. They can't rent apartments or get money wired.

KADA: We can't speak Arabic. We can't read and write. We can't do nothing. We can't go anywhere.

ARRAF: Kada has money here, but most of the Iraqis deported here have nothing.

NASHAT BUTRIS: It's just shocking. Everything is shocking to me.

ARRAF: I meet Nashat Butris at a shelter run by church in Baghdad. He has a bunk in a big bare room. There are clothes neatly folded on it. There's a picture of the Virgin Mary taped to a metal locker. Butris was deported in July. He'd done time years ago for cocaine possession.

BUTRIS: I always supported my habit by working - never dependent on the country, never dependent on the government by giving me an aid. Or - I always took care of myself.

ARRAF: He says he's been clean for years. He was deported with no money, no clothes and no relatives here. He speaks only broken Arabic. He stayed with Jimmy Daoud for a few days. An aid organization is trying to help him get ID.

BUTRIS: This is it.

ARRAF: He shows me the one-way travel document issued by the Iraqi Embassy in Washington. It's in English, and it has a photo of him in an orange prison jumpsuit.

BUTRIS: And now this government here, they're not believing in this travel documents. I can't get no IDs. I have no IDs. And I'm not allowed to leave this compound because I don't have anything to prove who I am.

ARRAF: He says once he gets an Iraqi ID, he'll start looking for a job, maybe go to the Kurdish region of Iraq where he can use his English. Baghdad scares him, he says. He still can't believe he's ended up here. Jane Arraf, NPR News, Baghdad.

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