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.