'We're being hunted': Iraqi Christians in US fear deportation after death of Jimmy Al Daoud
Members of the Chaldean Christian community say they feel betrayed by Donald Trump's administration
Iraqi Christians living in America say they fear deportation after a member of their community, who suffered health issues and spent nearly his whole life in the northern city of Detroit, died in Baghdad – a city he had never been to before – after being sent there against his will.
Jimmy Al Daoud, a 41-year-old Iraqi national, was born in a refugee camp Greece. He immigrated legally to the US in 1979 when he was 6 months old. His parents and three siblings became US citizens, but he never did.
He did not speak Arabic but was deported in June as part of US President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.
He then died of complications from diabetes in a Baghdad apartment on August 6. The cause of his death was partly due to his inability to obtain insulin, family members and US members of Congress said.
Mr Al Daoud’s story demonstrates the consequences that non-American citizens living in the US could face if they are deported to countries that they have never lived in before. The Iraqi Christian community in the US now fears similar treatment to that suffered by Al Daoud.
“The Chaldean Christian community is shocked and heartbroken by the cruelty of Jimmy Al Daoud’s deportation to Iraq and his death on the streets of Baghdad,” Zina Rose Kiryakos, president of the Iraqi Christian Foundation and an attorney for Christian victims of ISIS, told The National.
In Iraq, he was left alone, with no shelter, hungry and short on medication, specifically insulin for his diabetes.
His sisters did not know that he had been sent to Iraq until he called them from the city of Najaf.
“I don’t understand the language,” Mr Al Daoud said in an undated Facebook video. “I’m sleeping in the street. I’m diabetic. I take insulin shots. I’ve been throwing up, throwing up, sleeping in the street, trying to find something to eat. I’ve got nothing over here.”
The tragedy of Mr Al Daoud has given some members of the Chaldean Christian community a sense of not being safe in either our ancestral homeland of Iraq or outside of Iraq, Mrs Kiryakos said.
“We are literally being hunted down and marked for death in both the Western and Eastern hemispheres,” she said.
Mr Al Daoud’s remains were flown back to Detroit last Friday for burial later this week, Michigan Congressman Andy Levin said in a statement.
“His death could have and should have been prevented, as his deportation was essentially a death sentence,” Mr Levin said on Twitter.
Mr Al Daoud's family belongs to the Chaldean Catholic Church which is one of the most ancient branches of Christianity.
Although much of Mr Trump's immigration crackdown has been focused on undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America, Mr Al Daoud's case highlights the struggle that hundreds of Iraqi Christians could soon face if they are forced to return to their country of heritage, one wracked by war and instability since the US invasion in 2003.
The damage to Christian communities in Iraq, especially across the Nineveh Plains, east of Mosul, after ISIS captured large swathes of northern Iraq in 2014, has been so extensive that it has become difficult for members of the minority to return home.
The years following the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and the 2014 offensive by ISIS, the Christian community has shrunk from around 1.5 million to nearly 250,000.
In March 2016, the US government declared that ISIS had committed acts of genocide against Iraqi Christians.
“The US has an international law obligation under the Genocide Convention to take measures to protect victim communities of genocide,” Mrs Kiryakos said, adding that the government is violating its obligations.
Some of the Iraqis in Michigan feel betrayed by the US President’s Donald Trump’s administration, a leader they once saw as a “saviour”.
“When President Trump came to power we were relieved to see a leader who could stand up for persecuted Christians, instead we are shocked,” Dina Sabah, a 25-year-old Iraqi Christian, living in Detroit, told The National.
“I sometimes see signs around the city, in areas that have an Iraqi Christian majority, directed at the president saying 'You vowed to protect us, but failed to live up to your promise',” she said.
Ms Sabah said the government must re-consider sending members of the her persecuted community back to Iraq.
“They can’t go back to Iraq, it’s unsafe and their fate may end up being just like Jimmy Al Daoud,” Ms Sabah said, adding that many now feel threatened by the US government.
US Immigration and Customs Enforcement says those that are deported are individuals who have a criminal record. Al Daoud had more than 20 convictions in over 20 years as an adult in the US.
But the dangers involved in being returned to Iraq remain high for Christians who arrived in the US as children in the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, or following the 1991 Gulf War.
"Many Iraqis in our community do not speak Arabic, have an Iraqi identification card or are even associated with the Arabic culture," Eman Porter, 51-year-old housewife, from Detroit, told The National, adding that the threat hanging over their heads has put fear "in our hearts".
"They will be in great danger if they are deported back to Iraq," she said. "It's a real tragedy because we have nowhere else to go."
Updated: September 3, 2019 05:12 PM