ICE Abuses Men and Women On 48-Hour Deportation Flight to Somalia

Author:  Rebecca Sharpless
MIAMI, Fla. (December 19, 2017) -The Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, Americans for Immigrant Justice, James H. Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School, and Legal Aid Service of Broward County have filed a class-action lawsuit and request for a temporary restraining order against Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The lawsuit cites inhumane conditions and egregious abuse of 92 Somali men and women during a failed attempt to deport them by plane on December 7, 2017.

For the duration of the almost 48-hour trip, ICE shackled the Somali immigrants at their wrists, waist, and legs and forced them to stay seated. While the plane sat on the runway for 23 hours in Senegal, ICE agents kicked, struck, choked, and dragged some detainees down the aisle of the plane and put others in straitjackets. The deportees were also denied access to a working bathroom, leaving some detainees to relieve themselves into bottles or on themselves. 

"After about 20 hours, I stood up and asked what was going on and why we were waiting," Farah Ali Ibrahim, an asylum seeker and plaintiff in the lawsuit. "An officer grabbed me by the collar and I fell to the floor. Officers began dragging me down the aisle and beating me." ICE then put Mr. Ibrahim in a straitjacket.

Two detention centers in the South Florida area, Krome Service Processing Center and Glades Detention Center, are currently holding the detainees. ICE has indicated it will attempt to fly the detainees to Somalia again this week, as soon as Wednesday, December 20. Should the detainees be returned to Somalia, they face the danger of being targeted by the anti-American, anti-Western terrorist group Al Shabaab. Al Shabaab's violent attacks on Somali civilians whom it deems enemies are helping create what the United States has declared to be "one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world" when renewing Temporary Protected Status for certain Somali nationals. Al Shabaab made a massive bomb attack in Mogadishu on October 14, 2017. This terrorist attack killed over 500 people and was a transformative event widely referred to as "Somalia's 9/11." Many of the men and women who were on the December 7 flight have already had family members killed or threatened by Al Shabaab.

"The December 7 flight has received widespread media coverage in Somalia. Everyone knows they are coming," said Rebecca Sharpless, Director of UM Law's Immigration Clinic. "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."

U.S. asylum law forbids the removal of individuals to countries where they would face a likelihood of persecution or torture. The lawsuit asks for the court to issue an order preventing the removal of the detainees to Somalia until the plaintiffs are provided with an opportunity to determine if they are entitled to protection in light of changed circumstances created by the December 7 flight; have received adequate treatment for injuries sustained on the December 7 flight; and that ICE officials have taken adequate measures to ensure that the detainees will not be abused on the next flight.