A federal judge in Miami on Monday extended a temporary hold on the deportation of more than 90 Somalis arrested by immigration enforcement agents across the country in recent months.
U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles had already issued a temporary stay of deportation on Dec. 19 for all 92 Somalis, saying he needed time to weigh whether he has jurisdiction over the case and that they receive medical treatment for injuries sustained during a botched deportation flight.
On Monday, he granted a request from a coalition of advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and law professors at the University of Miami and University of Minnesota, to extend the order until Jan. 22, citing "good cause."
The lawyers, who filed a class-action lawsuit in late December, contend that it's unsafe to send their clients to Somalia based on changes in the conditions there, including a spike in violence in the country as well as the media coverage regarding the botched deportation flight on Dec. 7.
The story of the returned flight has generated a flurry of media interest, and lawyers say that could endanger the lives of their clients.
"There's undisputed evidence that they will be targeted as coming from the West by extremist terrorist groups, including al-Shabab in Somalia," said Rebecca Sharpless, director of the Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law.
The flight left early Dec. 7 morning from Louisiana, but the 92 detainees never made it to Somalia. Logistical problems forced the flight back to the U.S. after it reached Senegal in West Africa, according to immigration officials.
The government has argued that since the 92 men and women "have no constitutionally protected interest in the reopening of their removal cases, they have no due process right to remain in the United States to file their motions," according to a written court response submitted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement ahead of Monday's ruling.
Those being deported on the charter removal flights were restrained for the safety of those on board, the agency added, noting that 61 of the 92 detainees on the flight had criminal convictions, including homicide, rape, and aggravated assault.
Some of those on the flight said in a lawsuit that agents physically and verbally abused them during the flight, which lasted for 40 hours, including 23 hours when the flight was on the ground at an airport in Dakar.
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, according to the lawsuit.
The immigration enforcement agency called the abuse allegations untrue and said no one was injured during the flight.
However, a University of Miami doctor who examined some of the men said their physical injuries match up with their accounts of abuse.
"Their stories were consistent," Dr. Stephen Symes, an infectious disease specialist and associate dean, said in a statement on Thursday. "The extreme shackling and melee that followed, injured wrists, shoulders and ankles, necks and lower backs, as immigration officers hit, pushed, and full-body restrained some."
On Dec. 21, U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minnesota's 5th District, home to a large Somali-American community, called for investigations into the alleged mistreatment.