UPDATE | Minneapolis men face deportation to Somalia they had escaped as children

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UPDATE 2/16/2013 Both commenters and ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer have objected strongly to this article on the basis that it did not delve deeply into the criminal records of the two individual cases. That’s true. It did not. The focus of this article was on the impact of deportations on the families and friends, the uncertainty of when and how such deportations happen, and fears about return to a country still at war.

No claim was made that either man was unjustly convicted or illegally deported. As the article states:

It’s a normal and legal procedure for the United States to expel immigrants who ware convicted of crimes, even if they’re lawful permanent residents. Some of the reasons for being subject to repatriation include sex and drug offenses, fraud and other white-collar felonies, as well as security and terrorism crimes.

Both of the men whose cases are detailed in the article were convicted of sexual assault. Sexual assault is a serious and reprehensible crime. Some details of both cases are set out below:

We had no information on Qasim Bashir’s conviction prior to publishing the story because he had already been deported and the friends who talked to us about him did not have that information — or information about his date of birth, which is necessary for a records search. (Though date of birth is not always enough — see MPR article.) ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer informed us on February 4 that Qasim Bashir was:

Arrested on 2/19/1998 for criminal sexual conduct 1st degree in Hennepin County (age 19 when the crime was committed) Convicted on 12/17/1998 in Hennepin County of criminal sexual conduct 3rd degree and 1st degree and sentenced to 10 years in prison.  He was convicted in a trial by jury.  Victim was 14. The conviction related to a 1998 sexual assault of four 14-year-old females by a group of 6-10 men.  convicted in Minneapolis of a gang rape of a 14-year-old girl, committed when he was 19 years old.

Family members told our reporter that Hassan was “convicted for sleeping with an underage girl when he was a teenager.” As it turns out, the official records say that is not true. According to information provided by ICE and an article in the Argus Leader, he was convicted of third-degree rape for having sex with a 12-year-old girl in a Sioux Falls, South Dakota motel room when he was 21.

Neudauer also points out that:

Sex crimes, particularly those against children, are specifically cited in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) [Sections 212, 237]. Such crimes have grave consequences resulting in the loss, revocation or denial of any immigration benefits – once he made the decision to commit the crime and got convicted he lost his ‘second chance.’

ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer responded on January 4 to a few of the questions that reporter Ibrahim Hirsi had sent to him in researching this story. He referred at that time to more answers coming in the next week. Those answers arrived on February 4, after the January 23 publication of the story. Here are those questions and answers:

Question:  It’s a normal procedure that immigrants, who are convicted and serve a sentence, to be deported. But in the past, some say, there were no deportations to countries that have no government, or are unstable. Has that changed now? Or that is not true at the first place and people have been deported to their countries if convicted?

Answer:   ICE has historically experienced difficulty repatriating Somali nationals to Somalia due to the lack of a centralized government. Beginning in 2012, ICE’s ability to repatriate Somali nationals has improved.  Consistent with its civil immigration enforcement priorities, ICE currently prioritizes the removal of aliens who pose a threat to public safety or national security. 

Question: Does the U.S. believe that Somalia is safe enough for people to go back?

Answer:  ICE considers country conditions when weighing whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be warranted for a given alien, as described below. 

ICE routinely exercises prosecutorial discretion when prioritizing cases for removal.  When weighing whether an exercise of prosecutorial discretion may be warranted for a given alien, ICE officers, agents, and attorneys generally consider all relevant factors, including, but not limited to the agency’s civil immigration enforcement priorities, country conditions, the length of presence in the United States, the age of the person upon arrival, whether the person is the primary caretaker of a young child, military service, family and community ties, medical conditions, and other factors.  ICE officers, agents, and attorneys generally consider prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis based upon the totality of the circumstances.  

Question: How many people were deported so far?

Answer: ICE removed 13 aliens to Somalia in FY 2012 and 11 aliens to Somalia thus far in FY 2013.

Question: Is this the first wave of immigrants to be deported to Somalia?

Answer: No. Although ICE has historically experienced difficulty repatriating Somali nationals, some have been repatriated in the past.  Beginning in 2012, ICE’s ability to repatriate Somali nationals has improved.

Question: When people are deported, are they handed over to their countries’ government? Do the deportees get to choose what region of their countries they’d like to go or no? 

Answer: ICE works closely with foreign governments to coordinate the safe return of aliens to their respective countries, which includes providing information regarding the individual’s place of origin.

Question: What’s the total number of Minnesota immigrants who are subject to deportation as of today? 

Answer: As of January 5, 2012, the number of final order aliens in the St. Paul, Minnesota Area of Responsibility (AOR), which includes Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, and Iowa, is 9,986. ICE does not track these figures by state, only by AOR. (IIDS v.1.10 as of January 7, 2013)

 

– Editor, Mary Turck

When Hassan was recently asked to come to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center in Bloomington, he thought immigration authorities needed the usual updates he had often given since he was freed from prison in 2010.

That didn’t happen, though, when Hassan reached the center on Tuesday morning Oct. 30, 2012. Officials from the local U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) greeted and detained him in the same building. They told Hassan he was facing deportation to the strife-torn Somalia he had escaped at age 4.

Hassan spent the night at the center. The next day, he was transferred to the Basile Detention Center in Louisiana.

CORRECTION 2/16/2013: ICE spokesperson Shawn Neudauer said the information that Hassan spent the night at the ICE center and then was transferred the next day to Basile Detention Center was wrong. Specifically, he said, “[D]etainees do not spend the night at the ICE offices. They are ALWAYS housed at contracted jails” and “it wasn’t the next day it was a few days later, and you did not ask when he left Minn.” 

ICE Spokesman Shawn Neudauer confirmed Hassan’s detention and the wait for removal to Somalia.

Earlier effort to deport Minneapolis man to Somalia failed

In 2005, the local ICE attempted to repatriate Keyse Jama, which cost the government $200,000, according to a court document furnished to MPR. The deportation attempt failed, and Jama’s case attracted national media attention.

Jama was ordered to be deported after being convicted for a drunken knife fight in 1999 and serving a one-year sentence in jail. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement contracted a private jet to repatriate Jama to the northern Somalia region of Puntland. When he reached there, however, local authorities denied his papers and sent him back.

Puntland officials rejected Jama because he didn’t have a passport, the U.S. government did not directly communicate with the local officials, and Somali authorities didn’t want to turn Puntland into “a dumping ground for American criminals,” the legal document stated.

As a result, Jama returned to the county jail in Minneapolis.

In a 2006 story, Minnesota Public Radio quoted David Martin, an immigration law expert, who also served in the State Department and the Immigration and Naturalization Services as General Counsel:

“If they could successfully return Mr. Jama, it might establish a precedent that could open the door for future returns. And if you look at it in that way and I think the number was 3,500 or so Somalis who have deportation orders, some of whom were costing the government money in daily detention costs, then you could see it as an investment in the longer term.”

U.S. District Judge Jack Tunheim granted Jama a conditional release as he waited for repatriation. He remained in the Twin Cities for about six months after his return. During this period, he checked in twice a week with ICE.

Eventually, Jama escaped to Canada and applied for political asylum, his Toronto lawyer, David Yerzy, told the New York Times. The Canadian government recognizes that the lives of the deportees will be endangered in Somalia, so they grant admittance to the majority of Somali asylum-seekers.

The U.S. Supreme Court, however, ruled against Jama in the end.

“[Hassan] was served a Notice of Revocation of Release,” Neudauer said in an e-mail statement. “On the notice, it was explained that he is being taken back into custody because ICE has determined that there is a significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future. He was aware that ICE intended [to] remove him.”

“There was no chance for us to say our goodbyes,” said his younger brother, Mohamed. “The worst thing, he was not given a choice of where in Somalia he’d like to be deported.”

The violence that 26-year-old Hassan and his family escaped more than two decades ago still persists in the country, Mohamed said. He said the condition in Somalia is even worse right now than it was before.

“We’re concerned about his safety,” Mohamed said. “No one is in Somalia for him — no brother, no sister, no parents. No nothing.”

It’s a normal and legal procedure for the United States to expel immigrants who ware convicted of crimes, even if they’re lawful permanent residents. Some of the reasons for being subject to repatriation include sex and drug offenses, fraud and other white-collar felonies, as well as security and terrorism crimes.

Somalia has had its share of violence, poverty, and famine since the central government was ousted in 1991 by clan militias that later turned on each other. Since 2006, the fierce fighting between al-Shabaab and African Union forces has added to the country’s already flaming turmoil. A new clan-based government was established last August and still remains fragile and under the protection of foreign troops from the neighboring countries.

Hassan has been detained for more than two months now, awaiting expulsion to this chaotic country. No one from the immigration services has notified Hassan or his family about deportation details, including when exactly he will be deported, where in Somalia he will be taken or who will be responsible for his safety when he gets there.

The family members in Minneapolis have these questions roaring in their heads: Will he just be dropped on the streets? Will he be handed to the Somali government? Who will protect him from the people he and his family escaped from?

ICE was asked whether deportees chose the regions to which they prefer to be deported — since each region in Somalia has one major clan that controls the area, it’s significant for a deportee to chose the region run by his or her clan. ICE, however, didn’t answer questions on this concern.

Serving time in prison

Hassan arrived in the United States in 2004 from a refugee camp in Kenya. En route to Alabama, he settled in South Dakota where he found a job at a local store as a packer.

According to his family, in 2005, Hassan was convicted for sleeping with an underage girl when he was a teenager. His five-year term in South Dakota State Penitentiary ended in 2010.

“You could tell he was a changed man,” Mohamed said of his elder brother. “He wanted to find a job. He wanted to go to college. He was working so hard to get his life together. He wanted to become somebody.”

The U.S. government, however, didn’t give Hassan a second chance to become that somebody.

During his final months in Minneapolis, Hassan worked for a local restaurant as a waiter. Because Hassan didn’t get paid much, he frequently applied for other jobs — even though it’s hard for a felon to join in the labor force.

Hassan also used to volunteer at community events, especially the annual summer soccer tournaments, which are held in the Twin Cities by and for the Somali community of North America.

“That was his way to enjoy life after years in prison,” Mohamed said. “We were proud of him for doing that.”

Community reactions

Now, the Twin Cities Somali community circulates rumors of scores of their members who have been deported to Somalia and hundreds who wait their fate at detention centers. ICE officials have not confirmed the total number of Somalis who have been deported so far or kept in detention.

Many community members have expressed disappointment in the government’s decision to send people back to the dangerous country they’ve escaped.

“The only place that they know is the United States,” said community activist Sadik Warfa of the deportees. “They came here when they were kids. It’s a tragedy that the government is sending them back to Somalia.”

Warfa spoke with profound sadness of Qasim Bashir, a Minneapolis man with the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota at Brian Coyle Center, who was deported to Somalia on November 17, according to the ICE. Warfa described Bashir as a leader and “a decent man who empowered” the community’s young people through basketball training and tournaments.

“He was always trying to bring young people together,” Warfa said. “He was an instrumental in creating a better community.”

Bashi’s repatriation, Warfa said, touched him deeply both on a community and personal level. It’s not fair for someone with dreams and potential to be deported to a lawless country, he added.

Abdisalan Mohamed, who was Bashir’s friend since 2008, said he was shocked by the deportation news of the community members.

“Qasim used to help me fill my tax return forms,” Mohamud said. “He was my [go-to-guy] when I need help with community related things.”

“I’m sure he will be doing great things wherever in the world he is,” Warfa said. “We’ll miss him very much.”