Attorneys for deportees on a Somalia-bound flight that returned to the United States after a layover gone awry this month have filed a federal lawsuit to prevent another attempt to deport them.
The suit on behalf of all 92 people on board, including more than a half-dozen from Minnesota, alleges “inhumane conditions and egregious abuse” aboard the flight, including beatings that resulted in injuries. It also argues that media attention to the flight would make the deportees targets for the militant group Al-Shabab, which has lashed out against Somalis who have lived in the West.
ICE said Tuesday it does not comment on pending litigation, but it has previously said allegations of mistreatment and injuries on board the flight are “categorically false.”
The flight headed back to Florida after ICE said issues with a hotel in Dakar, Senegal, forced the aircraft to remain at the airport — with detainees and crew on board — to allow the relief crew time to rest.
The suit says the detainees on the flight experienced “extraordinary abuse” by ICE officers and contract guards, including being kicked, struck, dragged, choked and bound in straitjackets.
They were shackled for more than 40 hours, including 23 hours on the tarmac in Dakar. They were denied access to the restroom and forced to urinate on themselves, the lawsuit claims. The suit includes sworn statements from seven detainees. One, Farah Ibrahim, said that after waiting on the tarmac for some time, he stood up and asked why they were still there.
“An officer grabbed me by the collar and I fell to the floor,” his statement said. “Officers began dragging me down the aisle and beating me.”
ICE said all detainees were screened in a Florida detention center by health care professionals who noted no injuries. More than 60 of the detainees on board had criminal convictions, including homicide, rape and aggravated assault. The rest were ordered deported after failing to win asylum.
An earlier ICE statement said detainees received sufficient food and water and had access to bathrooms. “No one was injured during the flight, and there were no incidents or altercations that would have caused any injuries on the flight.”
The University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, which declined to comment, filed the suit along with the University of Miami School of Law and two other Florida-based organizations.
“Ironically, it is ICE’s own botched deportation … that has greatly increased the danger for these people,” the suit said.
The flight’s return set off a scramble by attorneys locally to argue that their clients should not be sent back to Somalia. On Friday, Judge Michael Davis temporarily blocked the removal of a local man on the flight, but only until a fellow judge in Minneapolis gives a full hearing to his case.
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the deportations of all detainees on the flight stayed until Jan. 2, giving the court time to determine if it has jurisdiction in the case. In response to the suit, the government argued the court has no jurisdiction in the matter.
In the fiscal year ending in September, the government deported 512 people to Somalia, compared with 198 the year before and about 30 five years earlier.