Judge blocks Somali deportations pending lawsuit over alleged ICE abuse

Elias Hubbard
December 22, 2017

The University of Miami's immigration law clinic has sued federal immigration officials, seeking to prevent the deportation of 92 Somalis being held at two Miami detention centers, who said they were shackled, beaten and prevented from going to the bathroom on a plane for 48 hours while in us custody, the clinic's director said.

After the flight returned to the US on December 9, the Somali nationals were taken to two South Florida detention centers to await another attempt to toss them from the country. During that time, the detainees were fed at regular intervals and the plane's lavatories were functional during the entire trip, ICE said. On Friday, Judge Michael Davis temporarily blocked the removal of a local man who was on the flight, but only until a fellow judge in Minneapolis gives a full hearing to his case.

"Defendants shall provide plaintiffs with adequate medical treatment for any injuries they have sustained", Gayles wrote in his order.

The badge of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's fugitive operations team member. "During this time, the aircraft maintained power and air conditioning, and was stocked with sufficient food and water", ICE said. "ICE takes all allegations of officer misconduct seriously and has referred the deportees' complaints to the appropriate office for review and investigation".

Deportations to Somalia have increased steadily in recent years, jumping more markedly under the Trump administration. Numerous men and women who were on the December 7 flight have had family members killed or threatened by Al Shabab, she said. ICE says it is not targeting people for expulsion based on their religion. Among the passengers were Somalis who have lived in the United States for years. En route to Djibouti - which is adjacent to Somalia - the plane first landed in the Senegalese capital of Dakar to pick up a relief flight crew. The agency claims that, upon landing in Dakar, the flight crew wasn't able to get enough rest because of "issues with their hotel", so ICE decided it was best to fly all the way back to the States instead of continuing to Somalia. However, the plane made it only as far as Dakar, Senegal, where it then sat on the runway for nearly a day before returning to the US.

The detainees were denied access to a working bathroom during the flight, according to the lawsuit, prompting some to urinate in bottles or on themselves.

"An officer grabbed me by the collar and I fell to the floor", his statement said. ICE agents allegedly beat them, restrained them, and dragged them down the aisle.

The lawsuit says US immigration law forbids sending people home to countries where they could face persecution or torture, and that al-Shabab is known to target those being returned to Somalia from the U.S.

Attorneys for the deportees said Ice indicated the group could be returned to Somalia on Wednesday or sooner. The suit includes sworn statements from seven detainees though it is unclear if any of them are from Minnesota. "And then at the last minute - as everyone is on the bus - they are like, 'We just got an email from ICE basically saying to abort the mission, to stop this and to process you back into the jail.' So they didn't go through with it".

The failed deportation flight has drawn attention to the asylum seekers and may leave them open to abuse upon their return, according to Rebecca Sharpless, director of the immigration clinic at the University of Miami Law School, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the asylum seekers.

Attorneys said they're now anxious the 92 immigrants will be killed or harmed by terrorist group al-Shabaab because the organization views people returning to Somalia after having been in the U.S. as enemies of their cause who must be summarily executed.

In yesterday's court filing, lawyers for the group argued the publicity from the botched deportation flight makes the 92 deportees even larger targets.

ICE's botched deportation of the 92 Somalis has received widespread worldwide media attention over the last week, especially in Somalia.

The class, which is represented by Rebecca Sharpless of the Immigration Clinic in the University of Miami School of Law, says its plight has been the subject of intense worldwide press coverage, and that if deported, it is at risk of being targets by al-Shebaab, a jihadist group based in East Africa. "It is not safe for these men and women to return, especially in light of the escalation of terrorist violence in Somalia in the last weeks".

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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