‘My Freedom Was Taken From Me’: Somali-American Held for Months by ICE Despite Being a U.S. Citizen Files Suit Claiming Unlawful Detainment

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The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota is taking the federal government to court for unlawfully holding an American citizen in ICE custody for 11 months and threatening to have him deported.

As a child refugee, Ali Abdalla came to the U.S. from Somalia and gained his citizenship when his father became a citizen in 2003, according to the constitutional rights nonprofit. Still, immigration officials arrested Abdalla in July 2017 despite the man telling them on multiple occasions that he’s citizen.

ICE
A new lawsuit accuses the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency of unlawfully detaining a Somali-American man even after a judge ruled the man was a U.S. citizen. (Photo: Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

“I was scared,” the 34-year-old said through his attorneys. “My freedom was taken from me. I don’t like to remember that part of my life.

Seven months into his incarceration, immigration Judge Ryan Wood called for Abdalla’s release after determining he was indeed a U.S. citizen. ICE appealed the ruling however, and held the Minnesota man for five additional months until his lawyer won his release in July 2018, the suit states.

“I was shocked that my government would do this,” said Abdalla, who lives in the Minneapolis suburb of Coon Rapids. “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.”

The complaint, filed in U.S. District Court on Thursday, alleges false arrest, false imprisonment and deprivation of liberty, in addition to violations of Abdalla’s Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. It also names several defendants, including U.S. Attorney General William Barr, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and a number of other federal officials.

Ian Bratlie, a staff attorney with ACLU-Minnesota, said ICE had ample opportunity to do the right thing and release a confirmed U.S. citizen he says the agency shouldn’t have seized in the first place.

“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,” Bratile said.

Lawyers for Abdalla say he’d previously suffered a traumatic brain injury in a work accident — an injury they said was exacerbated by his illegal arrest and imprisonment. He was moved to three different jails during his detainment and given anti-anxiety medication for his injury-related mental health issues. He was denied the meds, however, when ICE officials transferred him from Minnesota’s Nobles County Jail to the Sherburne County Jail.

“It was pretty rough on him,” Bratlie added. “The fact that they held him even after a judge told them he was a U.S. citizen is egregious.”

A spokesperson for ICE declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.

“It’s good to make the government aware they cannot do this,” Abdalla said, explaining the reason for his complaint. “They’ll keep doing it if I don’t. They’ll do it to the next guy.”

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

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