The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota (ACLU-MN) has filed a lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of a Somali-American man who was detained by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for 11 months.
The man repeatedly told them he was an American citizen, the organization said in a statement March 26 but they failed to heed.
According to the ACLU, Ali Abdalla immigrated to the United States as refugee from Somalia and was granted citizenship in 2003 after his father also received his. He was, however, arrested by the ICE in 2017 and was subsequently put through deportation processing, despite informing officials he was a citizen. The agency did not also investigate his claims, which was reportedly a violation of their own policies.
“I was scared,” Ali, who was held in three different jails during his detention, said. “My freedom was taken from me. I don’t like to remember that part of my life. I was shocked that my government would do this. I felt like I was nobody. They took me away from my family, everything I know. I might not see my kids ever again, my mom, my dad. It was horrible.”
Though Immigration Judge, Ryan Wood, ruled Ali was truly a citizen and annulled his removal proceedings seven months into his detention, the ICE did not release him and still kept him in custody. He was released five months later only after his attorney won a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release, ACLU-MN said.
Ali, who suffered a traumatic brain injury at his previous place of employment, had to be given anxiety medication while in custody at the Nobles County Jail as his detention triggered mental health issues pertaining to his injury. When he was to moved to Sherburne County Jail, however, officials prevented him from taking his medication.
“Every single step of Ali Abdalla’s journey presented an opportunity for ICE to do the right thing and release an American citizen who they shouldn’t have been holding in the first place,” Ian Bratlie, ACLU-MN staff attorney said. “Instead, ICE’s shocking and callous refusal to release an American citizen or even investigate, in violation of their own policies, is a gross miscarriage of justice that shocks the conscience and violates our Constitution.”
“Mr. Abdalla’s deprivation of liberty and emotional distress are the direct and foreseeable consequence of official policies, patterns, practices, and customs that manifest not only intentional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion as well as disregard of basic principles of due process, but also a reckless disregard for human life and liberty,” the lawsuit said, according to the statement.
The lawsuit, which was filed against the ICE, Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott, among others, claims Ali was falsely arrested, falsely imprisoned and was also deprived of his liberty without due process which is a violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
“It’s good to make the government aware they can’t do this,” Ali said. “They’ll keep doing it if I don’t. They’ll do it to the next guy. The government should take precautions, take time to figure this out.”
ACLU-MN is seeking compensatory damages for Ali.