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Minnesota's Somalis wary as US resumes deportations

ST. PAUL — The U.S. has quietly resumed deportations to Somalia following years in which Somali immigrants slated for deportation were allowed to live and work in the U.S. due to the chaos in their East African homeland.

The development is being monitored by Minnesota's Somali community, which is the largest in the country.

For years there was nowhere to send those immigrants because Somalia had no functioning government to accept them. But the country's government has since stabilized, and the United States officially recognized it in January and quietly resumed deportations, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

So far, 24 people have been deported from Minnesota and other states, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Ahmed Samatar, a former Somali presidential candidate who now teaches international studies at Macalester College, said the resumption of deportations hasn't seemed to cause much of an outcry in Minnesota's Somali community, perhaps because so few people have been affected.


"Cases like that do happen, but I think the vast majority of Somalis ... are very, very busy with how to become successful people in the localities in which they've been received," Samatar said.

There wasn't any significant announcement about the policy change, said immigration attorney Marc Prokosch, who chairs the Minnesota and Dakotas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. He said detainees only learned about it when they showed up for their regular check-ins with immigration officials and were taken into custody.

Prokosch said the first wave of immigrants to be deported were those seen as an ongoing threat to public safety, such as those convicted of sex crimes.

"But we've been hearing of non-sexual crime convictions being taken into custody, for example, felony assault," he said.

Not all people with deportation orders have committed crimes. Some have been denied asylum, often because they lack proper documents.

Individuals who have been ordered deported but don't have a country to which to return are given work permits and ordered to check in periodically with immigration authorities.

Deportations to Somalia have been problematic for years. More than 10 years ago, a human-rights group challenged whether it was legal to return people to a country that had no functioning government. The policy the U.S. was following raised red flags, attorney Michele Garnett McKenzie said.

"We just can't sort of airlift people in and parachute them in without the country's permission. That violates sovereignty and also more critically, it puts those people's lives at risk," she said.


The U.S. Supreme Court ultimately ruled that the U.S. did have the right to send people back to Somalia, but the American government suspended such deportations after a costly and failed attempt to send back a detainee in 2005.

ICE has not publicized the criteria being used for the recent deportations. However, the topic is likely to arise at the next quarterly meeting that federal officials hold with the Somali community.

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