Immigration Clinic Files Successful Action: U.S. District Court Judge Halts Deportation Plane to Somali

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CORAL GABLES, Fla. (December 19, 2017) – The Immigration Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law has filed a class-action lawsuit 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. 

Rebecca SharplessFor 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 straightjackets. 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,” said 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 Ibrahim in a straitjacket.

The lawsuit was filed in collaboration with Americans for Immigrant Justice, the James H. Binger Center for New Americans at the University of Minnesota Law School, and the Legal Aid Service of Broward County.

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.”

“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.

Yesterday evening, U.S. District Court Darrin P. Gayles ordered Immigration and Customs Enforcement to halt their second attempt to deport the men and women who were on a December 7 flight that involved 48 hours of shackling and other abuse. 

The order further requires ICE to give the attorneys representing the deportees reasonable access to them and to provide adequate medical treatment to them for any injuries sustained on the December 7 flight. The parties will be filing briefs on an expedited basis, and a hearing is scheduled for January 2, 2018. The judge's temporary order staying deportation is in place until the hearing date. 

"The judge acted just in time," said Sharpless, lead attorney on the lawsuit. "The government confirmed that our clients would have been on a flight to Somalia this morning."

Rebecca Sharpless
University of Miami School of Law
Director of Immigration Clinic
305-284-3576 or 6092

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