Jimmy Aldaoud’s Baghdad Banishment

It was story that could either evoke tears or sneers, according to which way it was framed. There was the poor Jimmy version:

Life was already a struggle for Jimmy Aldaoud. He had bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and battled depression and diabetes. He got into trouble, frequently landing in jail or on the street in and around Detroit, where he grew up.

Then, in June, he was deported to Iraq, and life got even more difficult. He had never set foot there before, his family said. He did not understand Arabic. He did not have enough medicine.

Then there was the bad Jimmy version:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Detroit said in an unsigned statement that Mr. Aldaoud, whose name is sometimes spelled Al-Daoud, was ordered removed from the United States in May 2018 after at least 20 criminal convictions over the previous two decades, including assault with a weapon, domestic violence and home invasion. While awaiting deportation, he was released in December with a G.P.S. tracker, but he cut it off, the agency said. Local police arrested him in April on a larceny charge, and he was finally deported on June 2.

The New York Times story about Jimmy Aldaoud led with the poor Jimmy piece, burying the bad Jimmy piece nine grafs down in the article, long after the story ended for Jimmy.

Mr. Aldaoud, 41, died in Baghdad on Tuesday, after days of vomiting blood and begging to return to the United States.

Was this story an idiosyncratic indictment of our treatment of immigrants? No and yes, as Jimmy’s story, his “exile” to his “home” country of Iraq, reflects a gaping hole in our immigration policy and treatment of immigrants. But it’s hardly idiosyncratic. It’s utterly normal, and it’s been going on for decades.

Dealing with both sides of the story, however, reflects not merely a conflict, where people can pick a side based on whether they prefer to focus on poor Jimmy or bad Jimmy, even though that’s the way the New York Times chose to present the story. If we’re to be modestly honest about it, Jimmy Aldaoud was not the poster boy for a desirable contributing immigrant, the one that the passionate talk about when they cry tears for parents snatched off the streets as their weeping children are left to watch.

The year was 1988, and we were in the throes of the crack epidemic, with people who were here lawfully, but not quite citizens, selling little vials of the demon drug to their neighbors, destroying their lives and crushing their souls. And the problem raised was what to do with them after they were imprisoned, as they were problems.

The solution seemed obvious to pretty much everyone. They weren’t citizens, they couldn’t stop themselves from committing crimes, so rip their green card in half and send them home. Hey, if they wanted to be here, they shouldn’t have been criminals. With that, “aggravated felonies” was born.

When a non-citizen committed an aggravated felony, which was one of our glorious euphemisms as the crimes need be neither aggravated nor a felony, they forfeited their right to enjoy the benefits of a nation that took them in and gave them opportunity. Back they went to wherever they came from. And so it was for Jimmy, like so very many before him.

But Jimmy Aldaoud suffered from mental illness, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. As we are well aware, these are the drivers of antisocial, read criminal, behaviors, and we failed him by putting him in a cell rather than a hospital bed. While it’s undeniable that our prisons are the primary place where we warehouse the mentally ill, leaving them to rot, if not worse, rather than providing care for their mental illness, it’s similarly true that some people with mental illness become lawyers. Even judges. Why that’s so is unclear, as it only takes a moment’s wrong choice to end up in jail or in a robe.

Yet, it’s not as if Jimmy made one mistake. He made a lot of mistakes, and for the people on the wrong end of Jimmy’s mistakes, his mental illness didn’t make his conduct any less dangerous. A weapon wielded by a mentally ill person kills just as well as weapon wielded by a person with no excuse. The same is true of a weapon wielded by a non-citizen.

And that’s the point here: Jimmy, much as he lived his entire life in the United States, spoke no Arabic, had no memory or knowledge, no friends or relatives, in Badhdad, was not a citizen. He had problems, but they weren’t our problems, and so rather than suffer to heal them, or suffer the harm he caused, we shipped him back to wherever and made him not our problem.

Of course, Jimmy Aldaoud was a human being. If you draw the line there, then every human being is “our” problem, as we’re human beings and we have the capacity to help other human beings, their technical nationality notwithstanding. While Jimmy didn’t have the piece of paper saying he was 110% American, was that enough to throw him onto the streets of Baghdad to let him die?

Of course, Iraq is a nation too. When Jimmy’s plane landed in that country, foreign to all but Jimmy’s ancestors, it could have embraced its son and helped him. And indeed, as he was a Chaldean Catholic in a Muslim country, there was help in the offing.

Shortly after the video was posted, the Rev. Martin Hermiz, the spokesman for Iraq’s Christian Endowment, found Mr. Aldaoud’s cellphone number and called him to ask if he needed help.

“He said, ‘No — if anyone wants to help me, let Trump know my situation here in Iraq so maybe he can have mercy on me and bring me back to America,’” Father Hermiz recalled, adding that Mr. Aldaoud also turned down an offer to stay in a church, saying he wanted to live alone and pay his rent himself.

By refusing aid, was Jimmy Aldaoud making a political statement or just another really poor choice in a life of really poor choices, to the extent the mentally ill make choices at all. While the New York Times presented  Jimmy Aldaoud’s death as an indictment of Trump, ICE and harsh immigration policies, it was hardly so simple.

39 thoughts on “Jimmy Aldaoud’s Baghdad Banishment

  1. pml

    Whats simple, yes unpopular but simple non the less, is that he was not a US citizen and was a criminal and a burden on society. So he was sent away, just like every other person in his situation is. The law was followed, that’s the end of it. If people thinks thats harsh, I don’t care.

      1. Guitardave

        ” All this narcissism, and mendacity,
        It kills compassion, and all empathy.
        When you can’t care ’bout other peoples pain and misery,
        You’ve lost your way”

        Some old unknown songwriter on YT

        1. SHG Post author

          The irony of empathy is that you can simultaneously feel it for the guy whose miserable life led him to pull the trigger and for the person into whose body the bullet’s trajectory ended.

            1. SHG Post author

              Not me. My feelz are mine, but nobody gives a damn what makes me happy or sad. What people may care about is why, and so that’s what tell ’em.

              Maple walnut, however, remains the best flavor ice cream.

  2. Hunting Guy

    Bilal Zahoor.

    “We are free to make our own choices, but we are not free from the consequences of our choices.”

    1. SHG Post author

      What the neglects to address is what the consequences should be and why. It’s easy to say consequences, but it tells us nothing.

    1. Guitardave

      H, I’ve never been much of a Dead fan, but that was perfect. Top shelf songwriting.
      Winner, winner, chicken dinner!

  3. Mario Machado

    At the inception of deportation proceedings, the Judge asks the respondent if he would like to designate a country of removal should he lose. If he doesn’t, then DHS designates the country, which is what usually happens.

    Ideally, Jimmy (or better yet, his lawyer, if he had one) would’ve asked to be sent to a country that’s not Iraq. Or, if he declined to designate, someone in respondent’s table should’ve jumped up when the government said “Iraq.” This is assuming that Jimmy wasn’t deported in absentia, which from the article it looks like that wasn’t the case.

    With some exceptions, the respondent’s request is granted. That’s a small caveat in Jimmy’s case that could’ve meant a hell of a difference.

    1. SHG Post author

      It’s my understanding (second hand, granted) that he was represented and acquiesced all around. Personally, I would have chosen France.

    2. LocoYokel

      Wouldn’t that also rely on the designated country being willing to accept you, assuming it wasn’t your country of birth?

  4. Danny Steinmetz

    To date, Iraq does not accept involuntary deportations from the US. Jimmy may well have signed away his rights rather than endure continued incarcerations, quite possibly with the current administration, under very harsh circumstances. While your good vs bad Jimmy framing fits his case, others have acquiesced to deportation because of the conditions of confinement pending resolution.

    Bad cases make bad law and poor analysis. The same sad outcome could apply to folks whose criminal offenses were long ago and quite trivial for US public safety.

  5. B. McLeod

    This is part of a media pattern of picking through zillions of deportation cases to find a few sad stories, which they then use to suggest our laws must be bad. In this case, that usual bit of stupidity appears to also be linked to an implicit assumption by the NYT that our country is permanently responsible to take care of anyone dumped here by his or her parents. That isn’t what our laws are about, or what they should be about, because national laws tend to be written from a perspective of what is thought to be beneficial for our country.

    1. Pedantic Grammar Police

      If this is the saddest story they could find out of hundreds of thousands of deportations, the obvious conclusion is that ICE is doing good work, and that the people who are being deported shouldn’t be here.

      1. SHG Post author

        The sad side of the story, by itself, was very sad. Hey, a person died and that is, and should be, sad.

        1. Pedantic Grammar Police

          A guy behaves badly over and over again, for many years, and eventually finds himself in a difficult situation as a direct result of his actions. Well-meaning people offer to help him, but he refuses their help, which would have saved his life, and then he dies.

          I’m trying to feel sad, but the tears aren’t coming.

  6. Jay

    You’re a criminal defense attorney? Jesus Sargon, what judge finds your arguments even remotely convincing given your obvious distaste for your fellow man?

    1. Judge Dredd

      As a former head PD, now judge, I have something to tell you, Jay, and it’s going to make you sad.

      Any lawyer who conceals or denies facts because they don’t conform to his ideological desires loses all credibility and becomes completely ineffective as an advocate. If you perform in the manner your comments here suggest, you are not a competent lawyer.

      If I was the judge before whom you appeared, your arguments would be discounted. If I was your boss in the PD’s office, I would tell you to polish your resume, as you had no place representing clients in my shop.

  7. AH

    “it only takes a moment’s wrong choice to end up in jail or in a robe”. I can’t believe I’m the first one to commend you on this turn of phrase.

      1. Richard Kopf


        Damn it. I didn’t like the robe part as it hit too close to home.

        (ง ͠° ͟ل͜ ͡°)ง

        All the best.

        1. Scott Jacobs

          I’m going to enjoy getting you people to speak at my law school far more than should be legally allowed.

  8. paleo

    The underlying problem here is the reporting and the nature of our political debate today. Jimmy, rest his soul, is a Rorschach test for the political whackos. This story could have been told with nuance in a manner that would help people understand the complexity of situations like this. How one size almost never fits all.

    Instead, the left and the media scream “see, Trump is Hitler!!!” and their opponents scream “see, criminal immigrants coming for your daughters!!!!” and society is somehow rendered a couple of degrees more stupid, even though frequently that seems impossible. All because nuanced thinking is hard or something.

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