Court rules against INS deportation of Somali man

Michael Krieger

A federal judge has ruled that a Twin Cities Somali man convicted of a felony cannot be deported because his home country lacks a functioning government.

U.S. District Judge John Tunheim filed the court opinion Sunday, ordering the Immigration and Naturalization Service not to remove Keyse Jama, 23, because there is no formal government in Somalia to receive him.

Tunheim ruled Jama must remain in the United States “until the government of the country to which he is to be removed has agreed to accept him.”

Jama, a Somali refugee who arrived in the Twin Cities area in 1996, pleaded guilty to an assault in 1999.

An immigration judge requested Jama’s removal after his conviction, but human rights advocates argued it was unconstitutional to deport immigrants to war-torn Somalia.

Jeffrey Keyes and Kevin Magnuson of the Minnesota law firm Briggs and Morgan represented Jama pro bono. They said they were pleased with the federal court’s decision.

“It’s a very important ruling, and it comes at an important time when we are fighting hard to protect the rights of immigrants,” Keyes said.

Somalia has been without a working government since insurgents ejected the ruling regime in 1991. Since then, warring factions have divided and assumed control over large areas of the East African nation.

“The INS was taking these people and literally dropping them into the most horrendous of circumstances,” Keyes said.

Although the transitional
national government of Somalia was established in 2000, it only governs a small portion of the country and is not recognized as legitimate by the U.S. government.

But an INS representative said the formal acceptance of a country is not required to deport immigrants.

“The laws we go by do not indicate the need for a centralized government,” said INS spokesman Tim Counts.

INS officials said the ruling would impede their efforts to combat terrorism. In court documents, they argued that countries in turmoil, such as Somalia, “may be prime sources of terrorism.”

The court disagreed with the INS, ruling that deporting immigrants to Somalia was a violation of federal law.

“It is difficult for the Court to see how the INS’s apparent current practice of dropping off an alien in a territory with no functioning government complies with the statute,” Tunheim wrote in the court opinion.

Although the court ruling only applies to Jama, his attorneys said it will likely set a precedent against future deportation of Somali immigrants.

In February, the INS deported 10 Somalis living in Minnesota.

“The Justice Department and INS should be obeying the law,” Keyes said. “I’m hopeful they will respect this.”

U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger, who represented the INS, said he will review the case before deciding whether to accept the court’s decision or file an appeal.

“We are disappointed with judge Tunheim’s ruling,” he said.

Jama’s attorneys said they will request his release from the Minnesota state prison in Rush City, where he is currently being held.

Michael Krieger welcomes comments at [email protected]