Surge of Somali Deportations Worries Communities Already Facing Marginalization


Among the thousands of people Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detain, arrest and deport there are a reported 4,000 Somali nationals in the deportation pipeline.

The current surge in Somali deportations is likely the result of a backlog of detainees that grew during the Obama Administration. Throughout Obama’s presidency, documents to travel to the country plagued by civil war, famine, the terrorist group Shabab and U.S. airstrikes were hard to come by.

Now that the Somali government has an embassy in Washington, D.C., ICE is asking officials to issue these documents more frequently. But the Somalis being deported—including those who were denied asylum—are returning to a country that remains in conflict.

Ramla Sahid, executive director of Partnership for New Americans in San Diego, works with Somali refugees and asylum-seekers who are anxious about the Trump Administration’s deportation plan. “Somalia is still experiencing decades of recurring famine and a humanitarian crisis,” Sahid says.

“Because the government there is newly formed, there is no plan or infrastructure to support and integrate individuals being deported.” Advocates around the nation, she says, are scrambling to provide legal clinics, translated information, and immigration assistance to Somalis who could be affected by the deportation surge.

Significant Somali populations, including refugees, live in Atlanta, Boston, Minneapolis/St.Paul, Nashville, Portland, San Diego and the D.C. area. The Pew Research Center reports that the Somali civil war has displaced over 1 million Somalis, and that the United States has admitted over 90,000 refugees from the country between 2001 and 2015.

Somalia is one of the six Muslim-majority countries targeted by the Trump Administration’s immigrant and refugee ban. And Somali Muslims in the U.S. face bias and hate violence. Last October, federal authorities brought charges against three men calling themselves the Crusaders, who had planned to detonate bombs at an apartment complex and prayer space in Garden City, Kansas, where Somali immigrants lived and worshipped.

The Somali deportations seem to reflect ICE’s broader enforcement strategy, which treats anyone who is removable without prioritization or discretion.

The Washington Post reports that ICE made 21, 362 arrests of mostly convicted criminals between January and mid-March of this year. This is in contrast to 16, 104 arrests during the same period in 2016. More startling is the fact that arrests of immigrants without criminal records more than doubled to 5,441, as compared to the same time period in 2016. Cities with the most noncriminal arrests include Atlanta and Philadelphia.

“The wave of immigration arrests, detentions and deportations, along with the Muslim ban, are having a catastrophic impact on Black immigrants,” says Carl Lipscombe, deputy director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. “Not only do these policies and practices separate families, but they will also exacerbate economic, educational, health, and other social challenges facing our communities.”

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