Updated 2:13 p.m., 8/20
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Twp.) told the Advance on Thursday the recent death of Jimmy Aldaoud was unnecessary, preventable and the result of a President Trump administration policy agenda that prioritizes fear above all else.
Aldaoud, a 41-year-old Iraqi national with diabetes and severe mental illness who had lived in America for the majority of his life, died in early August after being deported from Oakland County by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Levin represents the 9th Congressional District spanning Wayne and Macomb counties.* It contains the single largest number of Iraqi citizens in the country.
“You have to put this in the context of the raids on workplaces across the country, in Mississippi and elsewhere, and the hate crimes against immigrants in El Paso and elsewhere,” Levin said. “The president is creating an atmosphere of fear among all immigrant populations.”
Levin announced earlier this month that he had facilitated the return of Aldaoud’s remains to his family for a Catholic burial. On Thursday evening, Levin and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Southfield) will hold a vigil with his family at the Chaldean Community Foundation in Sterling Heights.
Ahead of that vigil, Levin spoke with the Advance to describe the circumstances leading to Aldaoud’s deportation and death, the response on Capitol Hill, and what, if anything, he believes can be done to prevent the tragic scenario from playing out again.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Michigan Advance: Can you describe what’s happened between now and when you first heard of Aldaoud’s deportation?
Levin: It’s been horrible. I heard of his deportation [earlier this summer], and not long after I was meeting with his sister and his brother-in-law. And just being with the family… they had not even known he was being deported. They found out when she got this WhatsApp message from this weird number, and answered it, and he was hysterical on the other end.
He was in Najaf, which is a ridiculous place to send him, on top of deporting him to Iraq. Why would they do that, except out of spite? He’s Chaldean [Iraqi Christian]. Najaf is in south Iraq, a place where there’s no history of Chaldeans.
So when they got him on the phone, he was hysterical, and there was this guy on the other end, a security guard at the Najaf airport. And he said, “What is this guy doing here? Why is he here? What am I supposed to do with him?” He said that he was so troubled and so Americanized, that if he put him out on the street he’d be killed for his organs. I mean, wow.
They deported Jimmy without letting him make a phone call, without letting him pack a suitcase, without letting him gather a supply of insulin, because he was a diabetic, and with no proper documents. It really was not surprising that he died. It was completely predictable.
Michigan Advance: Has Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), or anyone in the Trump administration, given you an explanation for why this happened the way that it did?
Levin: [sighs] No, I’ve not gotten any adequate explanation whatsoever.
One thing that it has made me push on more is that the Iraqi government … they don’t really want to accept these people. They’re under pressure from the Trump administration to accept them. But at the very least, they should be only taking people when they can provide Iraqi documents. All they’re giving them is a laissez-passer, which is a diplomatic document that says to countries along the way, ‘Let this person through; they’re going to Iraq.’
But once they get to Iraq, they don’t have national ID, or the equivalent of a driver’s license, or an Iraqi passport. We’re in touch with other people who have been deported whose lives are in danger. There’s one guy who’s been suicidal, who’s in Baghdad and cannot get a SIM card to be in touch with his family because he doesn’t have an ID and you can’t buy one without an ID.
Michigan Advance: You introduced legislation with [U.S.] Rep. [John] Moolenaar (R-Midland) earlier this year that would have prevented this from happening. Since it did, have any other members of Congress reached out and voiced their support for that legislation?
Levin: We had 40 people join a letter with me that we wrote to President Trump after Jimmy’s death, expressing outrage. I’m in close touch, as ever, with John Moolenaar on the Republican side, and he continues to work with me. We have two avenues here, and one is passing the legislation you referenced that will stop the deportations so that each person can have their day in court before an immigration judge, which seems like the most American of requests and ideas.
And secondly, we’re urging the administration just to stop doing this, because with a stroke of a pen they could. There have been Iraqi-born people in the U.S. with federal approval through the [President Bill] Clinton administration, the [President] George H.W. Bush administration, and the [President Barack] Obama administration, and none of them saw the need to suddenly try to deport these people who are not any kind of threat to America, and in fact most of them are now middle-aged people who are parents; who are working; paying taxes; many of them have their own businesses.
I haven’t found anybody in the Republican Party or elsewhere who can give me a rational policy basis for why it helps the United States to deport these people. We have to overcome one simple fact, and that is that this president has made attacking immigrants, attacking people who speak different languages, pray differently, are different colors — the centerpiece of his politics — and people are afraid to go against that. The only basis for this policy is prejudice.
Politically, in my community, the irony is that the Chaldean community is a Christian minority that’s been attacked in their country. So now you’re deporting them back to the most horrifying circumstances. The State Department says no American should travel to Iraq, their lives are in danger there. How many times should you multiply that for a Christian minority there that’s shrunk massively, and many of their villages have been destroyed. What are people going back to?
Michigan Advance: What have you heard from your Iraqi and Chaldean constituents in the wake of Aldaoud’s death?
Levin: We’re doing a vigil so people can come and be together and express their feelings about it. They’re outraged, they’re upset, there are many families who have a member who has a removal order and they wonder what’s going to happen, will the person be swept off the street and taken from them?
When you look at the way ICE has been operating, like in Jimmy’s case, to his family he just disappeared, and they only found out where he was when they got this call from Najaf.
You have to put this in the context of the raids on workplaces across the country, in Mississippi and elsewhere, and the hate crimes against immigrants in El Paso and elsewhere. The president is creating an atmosphere of fear among all immigrant populations.
His latest move to try to reduce legal immigration by basically saying low-income people need not apply. … That goes completely counter to our secular American religion of opportunity, that’s expressed in ‘The New Colossus,’ the poem on the Statue of Liberty.
Hearing the acting director of Citizenship and Immigration Services [Ken Cuccinelli] say, ‘Oh, send us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who can stand on their own two feet’ … that was among the most Orwellian moments of this whole psychedelic Trump trip.
Michigan Advance: That was very surreal.
Levin: I’m simply here trying to represent my constituents and my community. My community is hurting, and people are being targeted and I’m going to do whatever I can to protect them from unjust deportations and senseless policies.
We’re going to have a census next year, and Michigan will likely lose another congressional district. We have communities that are hurting for people. We have blighted areas that need to be repopulated. We have jobs that are unfilled. I used to run workforce development for the state, and I can tell you all of the experts say that we’re going to have not enough workers to do the skilled jobs we need in metro Detroit and Michigan in the years ahead.
America has always welcomed immigrants who are eager to come and get those jobs and prove themselves and become a part of the American story. Donald Trump is sullying that history with his actions.
This story was updated to accurately reflect the counties in Levin’s district.