[guest post by Dana]
Politico has a report about an Iraqi man who died shortly after being deported to Iraq by the Trump administration. It’s a troubling story. But also troubling is how the story is presented. Because behind the telling, lies advocacy.
A 41-year-old Detroit man deported to Iraq in June died Tuesday, according to the American Civil Liberties Union and two people close to the man’s family.
The report proceeds to tell the story of Jimmy Aldaoud and how, after his death, the Trump administration was blamed:
Edward Bajoka, an immigration attorney who described himself as close to Aldaoud’s family, wrote on Facebook that the death appeared to be linked to the man’s inability to obtain insulin in Baghdad to treat his diabetes. Aldaoud was an Iraqi national, but he was born in Greece and came to the U.S. as a young child, his family friend said. He had never lived in Iraq and did not speak Arabic, according to Bajoka.
“Rest In Peace Jimmy,” Bajoka wrote. “Your blood is on the hands of ICE and this administration.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also blamed the Trump administration for Jimmy’s death. This from attorney Miriam Aukerman:
“Jimmy’s death has devastated his family and us,” she said in a written 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.”
Here is Jimmy Aldaoud’s Facebook post about his deportation:
Aldaoud spoke about his deportation in an undated video posted to Facebook this week. In the video, he appears to be sitting on a sidewalk stoop in Baghdad.
“Immigration agents pulled me over and said I’m going to Iraq,” he said. “I said, ‘I’ve never been there. I’ve been in this country my whole life, since pretty much birth.’ … They refused to listen to me.”
Aldaoud said in the video that he had been homeless, vomiting because of a lack of access to insulin and unable to speak the language in Iraq. He also said he had been kicked while sleeping in the street.
“I begged them,” he said of his conversations with ICE agents. “I said, ‘Please, I’ve never seen that country, I’ve never been there.’ However, they forced me.”
Background on the Chaldean Catholic deportations:
The Trump administration has sought to deport more than 1,000 Iraqis with final orders of removal, including Chaldean Catholics in the Detroit metro area, of which Aldaoud was one. Chaldeans are an eastern branch of the Roman Catholic church who trace their roots to ancient Mesopotamia in present-day Iraq, where they are at high risk of being tortured or killed by the the terror group ISIS, the American Civil Liberties Union argued in a related legal case.
Advocates point out that many Chaldeans targeted for deportation have spent years or decades in the U.S.
Everything about the story is sad, don’t you think? As presented, an innocent man who suffered from several illnesses and lived most of his life in the U.S., suddenly found himself caught up in the administration’s immigration practices and was sent to Iraq, where he died alone, apparently with no loved ones at his side. Except that’s not the whole story: 22 paragraphs into the report, Jimmy Aldaoud’s criminal history is very briefly mentioned:
According to the ACLU and a POLITICO search of court records, Aldaoud had a criminal conviction for disorderly conduct and served 17 months for a home invasion.
Here’s what Politico didn’t include in the mention:
Immigration officials, though, paint Aldaoud as a repeat criminal who violated court orders. iCE officials in Detroit, in a statement to The Post, say had 20 criminal convictions between 1998-2017, including several violent charges, and that he cut off a GPS device he was supposed to wear while on release from immigration custody.
“(His) immigration case underwent an exhaustive judicial review before the courts affirmed he had no legal basis to remain in the U.S.,” ICE’s Detroit office said in a statement, adding that he was sent back to Iraq with a “full complement of medicine.”
Additionally, a critical point was not mentioned as well:
He wasn’t a U.S. citizen, so those criminal convictions made him eligible to be deported. For decades, Iraq had refused to accept deportations from the United States — but that all changed in June 2017. 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.
Aldaoud was among those picked up and eventually taken to a federal detention center in Youngstown, Ohio, according to federal court records.
None of this is to say that what happened to Jimmy Aldaoud isn’t tragic on a number of levels. It’s awful, and his life shouldn’t have ended the way it did. I wish he had gotten the help he needed, both with his health needs and with immigration issues. But I’m focusing on the media’s framing of the issue. Because when a media outlet buries a critical piece of information in the 22nd paragraph as a way to mislead readers and advocate more effectively ( making readers believe he was just some random, innocent guy swept up and deported by evil Trump regime), it does more harm than good to the cause for which they are advocating. And it certainly reinforces the belief that mainstream media outlets use their platforms to advocate rather than just report. Better to be straight up about it all, I think.
Case in point: this was how Dan Zak, a journalist at the Washington Post, framed the story when he tweeted about it:
Given that he really doesn’t know how Aldaoud died, this would be incorrect, as well as misleading. Zak was corrected by a former reporter, who noted the inaccuracy, and asked him to retract the “likely cause of death” portion of his tweet, and correctly pointed out that “the actual cause of death has not been corroborated per those cited in the article.”
While Zak still has not deleted the tweet, he acknowledged his error (after taking a shot at the former journalist):
This person — despite the Stalinist rhetoric on his page about the national press being the enemy of the people — is correct here. I should not have stated his cause of death as definitive. I hope he reads the rest of this thread, as I have read his.
(Cross-posted at The Jury Talks Back.)