A plane with deportees to Somalia, including at least four from Minnesota, returned to the United States on Friday after a stop in Senegal that authorities said did not go according to plan.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that a flight with 92 deportees headed back after a refueling and pilot exchange stop in Dakar. As the plane landed in Dakar, ICE was notified that relief crew members were not able to get enough rest because of issues with their hotel, and the plane remained parked at the airport to allow the relief crew time to rest.
“Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees,” said the statement from the agency.
Local attorneys for several of the deportees on the flight said they were baffled by the turn of events — but hopeful the flight’s return might offer some of their clients a long-shot opening to block their deportations.
The number of Somalia natives the United States deports to their homeland has increased markedly in recent years, and the Trump administration this year removed that country from a list of nations deemed uncooperative on deportations.
The U.S. government has argued that conditions in the East African country have improved sufficiently to return people there. Advocates have pointed to a string of deadly terror attacks in Somalia as they insist the country remains unsafe.
John Bruning, an attorney at Kim Hunter Law in St. Paul, said his office had two clients on the flight, both of whom unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After receiving final deportation orders, they had been checking in with ICE regularly for years until they were detained earlier this year. One of them worked as a cardiovascular technician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. In a dramatic last-minute turnaround, a federal judge blocked temporarily the deportations of two other clients who were slated to be on Thursday’s flight. A third client’s case was reopened by the Board of Immigration Appeals.”
“We’re still trying to wrap our minds around what is going on,” Bruning said.
Bruning said the two men on the flight have pending claims with the Board of Immigration Appeals, though it is unlikely that decisions in those cases will come during what will probably be a short stint in the United States until another flight to Africa can be arranged. Still, he said his office is trying to find out more about the circumstances of the return to determine if it might offer any chance to make a fresh case on their behalf.
Habon Osman, whose husband, Cabduqaadir Mayow, was on the plane, said she hoped its return might give him another chance. The couple is legally married, but her husband was arrested days before their religious ceremony. “It’s the worst story of my life,” she said. “I have a little bit of hope he came back, but you never know.”
Linus Chan at the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, which is representing another deportee on the flight, said he’s also exploring whether the plane’s return might provide an opening for his client. He said he’s encouraged by the outcome in federal court for Kim Hunter Law’s three clients.
Chan said the flight’s return seems like an ordeal for those on board, though he noted ICE might not be at fault for the issues in Dakar. The agency said the air-conditioning remained on throughout the stay in Dakar, and the plane was stocked with enough food and water.
“You’ve been sitting in detention for months,” he said. “You’re on a plane to Somalia, and the next thing you know you are heading back to the U.S. That’s got to be terrible.”
Staff writer Faiza Mahamud contributed to this report.