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(Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)

Iraq was a land so foreign to him that he even said its name with the typical American mispronunciation — “Eye-rak.” He had never visited since his birth to Iraqi Christian parents in a Greek refugee camp. He knew no one there and spoke no Arabic. Yet it was on the streets of Baghdad where Jimmy Aldaoud died.

The Detroit man had been deported from the United States some months prior; confused, diabetic and allegedly mentally unstable, he lived homeless and desperate until his family received word of his death this week. They believe he died because of his inability to obtain insulin. An undated video circulated on social media by his lawyers on Wednesday showed Aldaoud, 41, gaunt and terrified in the aftermath of his deportation.

“I don’t understand the language,” Aldaoud said. “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.”

According to his advocates, Aldaoud was a victim of a heartless Trump administration and its emboldened Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Though he was not a U.S. citizen, he had spent almost all his life in the United States. As Politico first reported, his deportation came on the back of a series of criminal convictions, which render noncitizens susceptible to removal from the country. His family attributed his criminal record in part to his mental health. Rights groups argued that he should have never been sent to a country where he would be unsafe.

“Jimmy’s death has devastated his family and us,” Miriam Aukerman, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, said in a statement. “We knew he would not survive if deported. What we don’t know is how many more people ICE will send to their deaths.”

“This is a total failure of the whole immigration system,” Edward Bajoka, a Detroit immigration attorney and friend of Aldaoud’s family, told The Washington Post. “This guy should have been protected somewhere along the way.”

The tragic irony of Aldaoud’s story is that he came from a community the Trump administration claims to champion. On the campaign trail, President Trump condemned his predecessors as not doing enough to protect the Middle East’s religious minorities from the scourges of jihadists and neglectful Arab governments. Along with Vice President Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump has repeatedly spoken of the plight of the Aldaouds’ community, the Iraqi Chaldeans, and other religious sects such as the Yazidis who lived for centuries in what are now Syria and Iraq.

Their long existence in these lands was first put under threat by the havoc unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Things were made all the worse a decade later by the rampages of the Islamic State — a top Iraqi Christian cleric in 2014 likened what befell the country’s Christian sects to the medieval massacres that accompanied the Mongol invasions. Now, Iraq’s Christian population is barely one-seventh of what it was before 2003, no matter the administration’s efforts to focus aid funding to rebuild these communities shattered and scattered by war.

More broadly, the Trump administration hailed the cause of “religious freedom” with an eye toward the president’s evangelical Christian base. It held ministerial-level international summits on the plight of persecuted religious minorities and is even trying to reframe the concept of human rights along more-religious lines. Last month, Trump hosted a diverse group of leaders of endangered religious communities from around the world in the Oval Office — an event now most remembered for the president’s cringeworthy exchange with a Yazidi activist and victim of rape and torture.

But critics argue this amounts to little more than virtue-signaling when set against Trump’s anti-refugee agenda. The number of Middle Eastern Christians admitted as refugees to the United States in 2018 dropped 98 percent from 2017. That’s part of a wider, systematic gutting of U.S. refugee admissions. Trump adviser Stephen Miller, an anti-immigration zealot, has reportedly remarked he would be “happy if not a single refugee foot ever again touched American soil.”

In summer 2017, Miller and other White House officials used the threat of a travel ban on all Iraqi citizens to compel the government in Baghdad to take back Iraqi nationals listed for deportation. ICE rounded up hundreds of Iraqi nationals with criminal records, including Aldaoud, who was sent to a detention center in Youngstown, Ohio. Though a federal judge stayed proceedings on the grounds that many of these Iraqis would face “persecution, death or torture," the ruling was overturned by an appeals court in December, paving the way for Aldaoud’s summary deportation.

“For decades, Iraq had refused to accept deportations from the United States — but that all changed in June 2017,” explained my colleague Tim Elfrink. “As part of a deal to escape President Trump’s travel ban against a host of majority-Muslim nations, Reuters reported, Iraq agreed to accept deportees. More than 100 Iraqis with criminal records were arrested that month by ICE, mostly in Detroit.”

A lawyer representing other Iraqi refugees now under the threat of deportation told the Detroit News that at least seven have cut their GPS-tracking “tethers” in the past month in a bid to avoid being sent to back to a country where they may be kidnapped or killed. “It’s unfathomable that we’d send people whose relatives and countrymen were just two or three years ago victims of this genocide back to this place where they’re still at risk,” Bajoka, the attorney, told The Post.

In 2016, Trump’s rhetoric appealed to conservative voters of Iraqi Chaldean origin in Michigan, whose Chaldean voting population of about 60,000 to 80,000 people cast their ballots in large numbers for him. A similar turnout is unlikely in 2020. “Everybody supported him — we all wanted Trump because we thought Trump would do good for us,” Steve Yaldo, a U.S.-born Chaldean, told the Christian Science Monitor in 2017. “And now it’s like he turned his back on us.”

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