If Somalia is too dangerous for travel, why not for deportation?

Maxamed Adan fled civil war in his home country of Somalia in 1998.
Maxamed Adan fled a civil war in his home country of Somalia in 1998. After Immigration and Customs Enforcement attempted to deport him in 2017, he reopened his asylum claim and is fighting to stay in Minnesota.
Courtesy Maxamed Adan

One of the countries President Trump presumably had in mind when he disparaged Africa is Somalia, a country that he has included in several iterations of his travel ban. Now his government is stepping up deportations to Somalia, even though Trump's own State Department says it's unsafe to travel there.

For Maxamed Adan, who lives in Minnesota with his wife and children, the prospect of being forced to return to Somalia is a frightening one.

"Conditions are really bad," he explained recently. "Religious groups are fighting there, al-Shabab." He said he has heard that al-Shabab, the militant group, recruits fighters among Somalis returning from the United States. "I have to fight for them, or they have to kill you," he said.

After Somalia's civil war broke out in 1991, Adan fled to Ethiopia. He was one of the "unlucky" ones who couldn't get refugee status in America, he said. So he hired a smuggler to get him to Mexico, intending to cross the border into the United States.

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"When I filed the asylum (request) in the United States, they denied my case," he said. A judge found him to be credible, but also found that he didn't have a valid claim for coverage under asylum laws. At that time, the United States wasn't deporting Somalis back to the east African nation. The country wasn't fit to take people back.

Adan did have work authorization. He stayed and held various jobs: as a cab driver, for example, and as a gift shop attendant at the airport. He had a car service for a while. The worst challenge he faced was the Minnesota cold.

But last year, Adan worried about what the new Trump administration might do. It was pressuring Somalia to take people back, and it began deporting them in large numbers.

"I tried to go to Canada because I didn't want to get deported back to Somalia," he said.

But Canadian officials refused to let him into their country. Agents of U.S. border security gave Adan a ride back to Grand Forks, N.D., and from there he returned to Minnesota. Officials told him he needed to check in every three months with agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE.

As instructed, he checked in last March. Then again in June. But after he went to check in last September, he never returned home. Suddenly ICE had arrested him and planned to deport him back to Somalia.

He was moved around detention facilities in Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska and finally Louisiana.

"I wouldn't mind going back to Somalia," he said, if the country were at peace.

Now Adan waits, boxed in by a contradiction. The U.S. government claims that conditions in Somalia have improved enough to send him back. On the other hand, the State Department continues to warn U.S. citizens that Somalia is a dangerous place to travel. It says violent crimes like kidnapping and murder are common. The State Department has given Somalia its most serious level of advisory: "Do not travel."

And terrorists continue to plot kidnappings and bomb attacks. Last October, a bombing in Mogadishu killed more than 500 people.

Adan's attorney, Kim Hunter, said the U.S. change in policy regarding deportation of Somalis doesn't make sense.

"Al-Shabab did not generate in Somalia until the end of 2006," Hunter said. "And so, given their effective control over much of the country and their harsh religious practices, their political practices, their suspicion of Westerners and in particular Westernized Somalis coming from the United States, that's a whole new basis for an asylum type of claim."

After three months in detention, Adan won a temporary reprieve when an immigration judge ordered a stay of removal. Now he waits, hoping that his adopted country will let him stay — and afraid that it won't.

MPR News reporter Mukhtar Ibrahim contributed to this story.

Clarification (Jan. 16, 2018): An earlier version of the story mischaracterized the most recent order related to Maxamed Adan's temporary reprieve.