Somalis facing imminent deportation granted temporary reprieve

Updated: 8:30 p.m. | Posted: 3:15 p.m.

A federal judge in Florida Tuesday blocked the deportation of 92 detainees to their native Somalia. U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles set a two-week emergency stay of removal, "pending the Court's jurisdictional determination." The detainees were scheduled for deportation on Wednesday.

The emergency stay came a few hours after several lawyers filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Somali men and women, at least 10 of whom are Minnesota residents.

The group was supposed to be in the East African nation by now, but their flight returned to the United States on Dec. 8, after a brief stop in the West African country of Senegal.

They are now in detention centers in Florida.

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The story of the returned flight has generated a flurry of media interest, and lawyers say that could endanger the lives of their clients.

"The extraordinary public attention that ICE's misconduct has drawn to the 92 detainees matters because it is a unique circumstance that puts them in danger of being targeted by the anti-American, anti-Western terrorist organization (al-Shabab)," the lawsuit said.

The suit also alleges that federal immigration agents physically and verbally abused deportees during that time. Among the allegations:

• As the plane sat on the runway, the 92 detainees remained bound, their handcuffs secured to their waists, and their feet shackled together for 48 hours.

• When the plane's toilets overfilled with human waste, some of the detainees were left to urinate into bottles or on themselves.

• U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents put some who protested or just stood up to ask a question into full-body restraints and "kicked, struck, or dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane, and subjected some to verbal abuse and threats."

Khadar Abdi Ibrahim, 30, was picked up by a federal immigration agent by the waist and then "slammed him down head-first with his legs in the air," according to the lawsuit. "His neck still hurts today." Ibrahim has a sister in Minneapolis.

The suit also describes the case of Farah Ali Ibrahim, a 30-year-old man who said an immigration agent kicked him in the head and stepped on his hand.

The lawsuit alleges that two officers stepped on Ibrahim's back and another agent pressed his thumb under the man's "ear near his jaw and shoved his head into the floor, causing him to lose consciousness."

When Ibrahim regained consciousness after the assault, "he found that agents had immobilized his body by [wrapping] him in fabric and applied cord restraints that prevented [him] from sitting upright or standing."

An Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokesperson said the federal agency "does not comment on pending litigation."

ICE spokesperson Brendan Raedy referred MPR News to a previous statement the agency released to the media that said: "No one was injured during the flight, and there were no incidents or altercations that would have caused any injuries on the flight."

Raedy told MPR News last week that those deported on charter removal flights were restrained for the safety of those on board.

The agency said 61 of the 92 detainees on the flight had criminal convictions, including homicide, rape, and aggravated assault.

The lawsuit says all the detainees should receive "adequate treatment for their injuries sustained" during the flight, which lasted for 40 hours, including 23 hours when the flight was on the ground at an airport in Senegal's capital, Dakar.

It adds the men and women should be given assurances that "they will not be abused on the next flight, including but not limited to the guarantee that none of the ICE and contract officers on the December flight will be on any new flight."

Editors note: The above copy is clarified to say the flight arrived back in the U.S. on Dec. 8.