Grand Forks Herald
Thursday, March 07, 2013
As Somalia begins to emerge from years of turmoil, the war-torn
nation's newfound stability creates a downside for a small number of
Somalis who have run afoul of the U.S. immigration system.
years, Somali immigrants whom federal immigration authorities ordered
deported had nowhere to go as there was no functioning government in
Somalia to accept them. But in January, when the United States
recognized the government in Somalia for the first time in more than 20
years, federal authorities quietly resumed deportations to Somalia.
two countries have not restored full diplomatic relations. But
Immigration and Customs Enforcement did receive enough cooperation last
year to begin returning some detainees who have been convicted of
serious crimes while in the United States. Immigration officials have so
far deported 24 Somali nationals from Minnesota and other states.
was no big announcement of the policy change, said Marc Prokosch, an
immigration attorney in Bloomington, Minn. Instead, detainees learned
they would be deported when they were taken into custody after showing
up for their regular check-in with immigration, said Prokosch, chair of
the Minnesota/Dakota chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers
"It seems that the first wave -- if you wanted to
call it 'wave' since there were only a handful -- were people who would
be seen as an ongoing threat to public safety, because of, for example
the criminal sexual conduct convictions," Prokosch said. "But we've been
hearing of non-sexual crime convictions being taken into custody, for
example, felony assault."
Not all people with deportation orders
have committed crimes. Some have been denied asylum. Prokosch said often
those cases involve detainees who lack documents to prove their
Because ICE has prosecutorial discretion, Prokosch
said, if someone has been law-abiding for years and is raising a family,
deportation could be postponed further.
People who have been
ordered deported but don't have a country to return to are given work
permits and check in periodically with immigration authorities.
to Somalia have been fraught with problems for years. More than a
decade ago, the group Advocates for Human Rights challenged the legality
of returning people to a country without a functioning government. The
repatriation techniques U.S. officials were using raised red flags,
attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie said.
"We just can't sort of
airlift people in and parachute them in without the country's
permission," Garnett McKenzie said. "That violates sovereignty and also
more critically, it puts those people's lives at risk," Garnett McKenzie
The case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that
the federal government did have the right to return the detainees. But
after a costly and failed attempt to send back a detainee in 2005, the
government put deportations to Somalia on hold.
While it may be
difficult for someone to leave after many years, at least there is an
orderly process now, Garnett McKenzie said.
"We hoped that the
government of Somalia would form and stabilize and that human rights
conditions would improve to the point that people could safety be
returned, so people would not remain in limbo forever," Garnett McKenzie
The stabilizing government in Somalia has not just affected
detainees. Entrepreneurs and relatives from the Somali diaspora have
taken advantage of the improved security situation to travel back to the
Ahmed Samatar, a professor of international studies at
Macalester College, returned from Somalia in October after running for
president there. Samatar said the resumption of deportations does not
appear to be a big topic in Minnesota's Somali community, perhaps
because the number of people affected is quite small.
that do happen but I think the vast majority of Somalis...are very, very
busy with how to become successful people in the localities in which
they've been received," Samatar said.
ICE has not publicized its
recent deportations or the criteria being used, although it is likely to
be a topic at the next quarterly roundtable federal officials hold with
the Somali community.