A lawsuit against federal immigration authorities over the failed attempt to deport 92 Somali men and women says the immigrants were shackled to their seats for 48 hours, punched, and forced to urinate in water bottles.
The lawsuit, filed by the University of Miami School of Law, stems from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s failed deportation flight on Dec. 7. The 92 Somalians left the US but never made it to Somalia. Instead, the plane landed in Senegal and then after about 48 hours returned to the US because of logistical problems.
“After about 20 hours, I stood up and asked what was going on and why we were waiting,” Farah Ali Ibrahim, an asylum seeker and plaintiff in the lawsuit, said in a statement. “An officer grabbed me by the collar and I fell to the floor. Officers began dragging me down the aisle and beating me."
The lawsuit claims that for the duration of the almost 48-hour trip, ICE shackled the Somali immigrants at their wrists, waist, and legs. The plane sat on a runway in Senegal for 23 hours, during which ICE agents kicked, punched, choked, and dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane.
ICE said it does not comment on pending litigation. In a previous statement the agency said the allegations about ICE mistreatment aboard the flight were categorically false.
ICE said that upon landing for a refueling and pilot exchange in Dakar, Senegal, the agency was told “the relief crew was unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar.” The plane parked at the airport to allow the crew to rest. During that time, the detainees were fed at regular intervals and the plane's lavatories were functional during the entire trip, ICE said.
Ultimately, federal authorities decided to reschedule the deportations and had the plane and passengers returned to the US.
“No one was injured during the flight, and there were no incidents or altercations that would have caused any injuries on the flight,” ICE said.
The lawsuit paints a vastly different picture.
“The guards did not loosen the shackles, even when the deportees told them that the shackles were painful because they were too tight, that their arms and legs were swollen and were bruised,” the complaint said.
ICE acknowledged that the detainees were shackled for the trip, but said that is policy on all chartered deportation flights "for the safety and security of all passengers and crew."
In addition to the alleged physical abuse, the lawsuit said as many as 20 or 30 ICE or contract guards berated the deportees, calling them criminals and threatening to kill them. People were also denied medications for diabetes and HIV.
The immigrants said the plane's bathrooms became full of human waste and couldn’t be used. As a result, deportees were forced to urinate in water bottles and on themselves.
The plane eventually landed in Miami on Dec. 9. The men and women are being held at two South Florida detention centers, Krome Service Processing Center and Glades Detention Center.
The immigration clinic at the University of Miami School of Law said ICE has indicated it will try to deport the detainees to Somalia again as soon as Wednesday.
Attorneys said they’re now worried the 92 immigrants will be killed or harmed by terrorist group al-Shabaab because the organization views people returning to Somalia after having been in the US as enemies of their cause who must be summarily executed.
“The December 7 flight has received widespread media coverage in Somalia. Everyone knows they are coming,” said Rebecca Sharpless, director of the immigration clinic. “It is not safe for these men and women to return, especially in light of the escalation of terrorist violence in Somalia in the last weeks.”
The lawsuit is asking the court to issue an order halting their deportation until it's been determined whether the immigrants are eligible for protection in light of the Dec. 7 flight, whether they have received adequate treatment for injuries, and whether ICE officials have taken adequate measures to ensure detainees are not abused on the next flight.
Read the complaint
Adolfo Flores is a national security correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. He focuses on immigration.
Contact Adolfo Flores at email@example.com.
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