If you grow up in southeastern Michigan, as I did, you know about Chaldeans — Catholics from Iraq. Greater Detroit is the hub of Chaldeans in the United States. Chaldean Town was established in the city in the 1920s.
Because I’m from the area, I think the story of Jimmy Aldaoud stood out to me, more than it would have. I knew lots of kids with names like “Jimmy Aldaoud.” Here is a report in the Washington Post. Headline: “A Detroit diabetic was deported to Iraq, where he’d never lived. He died from lack of insulin, family says.”
The deceased was a Chaldean born in Greece, where his parents were refugees. The family came to America when he was a baby — six months old. He never knew any other home.
He was a diabetic and, worse, a paranoid schizophrenic. He had done time for stealing power tools from a garage. He was deported to Iraq, suddenly.
Two and a half weeks after he got there, he was videotaped making a statement. (See it here.)
“I begged them,” he said, referring to the deportation agents. “I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country. I’ve never been there.’ However, they forced me. I’m here now. I don’t understand the language. 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.”
People beat him up. (It’s dangerous to be a Chaldean in today’s Iraq, by the way, as it was in yesterday’s Iraq.) Anyway, he’s dead now, so hurray for us.
Jimmy Aldaoud was clearly, obviously American. He pronounced the name of the country to which he was deported “Eye-rack,” for heaven’s sake. That’s the way we talk in Detroit. His name was “Jimmy,” for heaven’s sake.
Look, I know the spirit of the times: Deportations are in, and maybe they should be. We have been lax on our immigration law for too long, and justified frustrations have built up. But should we really feel proud of what we did to Jimmy Aldaoud? Are we a better country for it? Deporting someone so vulnerable, who’d live here his whole life?
“No fair quotin’ the Statue of Liberty,” Alan Simpson once said. (He was a prominent senator from Wyoming, and is one of my favorite interviewees of all time.) I realize the words of that poem are spat on today, at least by many. But Jimmy Aldaoud had a tempest-tossed life, and he was a piece of wretched refuse, and we threw him back — to where he had never actually been — and I think it’s pretty lousy, personally.
I also know that a lot of conservatives agree with me, whether they are willing to speak up in our current environment or not. May we get a little bolder, even as we pursue our restrictionism — restrictionism with a brain and a conscience, I would hope. Just as there is such a thing as personal honor, there is such a thing as national honor.