WASHINGTON / MINNEAPOLIS —
A U.S. lawmaker wants an investigation into the treatment of 92 Somalis who were allegedly chained to their seats for nearly two days during a botched attempt to deport them to their home country.
Some of the Somalis allegedly had to urinate on themselves because they were not allowed to get up during an excursion that took them from the U.S. to Dakar, Senegal, and back again.
Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, whose congressional district is home to the largest community of Somali-Americans in the U.S., said reports of what happened on the flight were "profoundly disturbing and represent a tremendous violation of the civil and human rights of detainees."
'Detailed account' sought
Ellison said Thursday that he had asked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to investigate what happened on that flight.
"I request a detailed account of the 48 hours ICE attempted to deport these individuals, including all actions ICE intends to take involving the detained individuals, as well as ICE officers and supervisors involved in the matter," said Ellison in a statement.
According to news reports, the flight left Louisiana on December 7 and landed in Dakar the following day. However, the plane spent nearly a day on the runway there before passengers and crew flew back to Miami.
In a statement at the time, ICE said the plane returned because of logistical issues.
On Tuesday, a Miami federal judge ordered ICE to delay its planned deportation of the 92 Somalis who were on the flight.
Some of the passengers have filed a class-action lawsuit seeking a delay to their deportation as well as medical treatment for injuries allegedly suffered on the December 7 flight. The lawsuit says ICE guards beat, kicked, choked and threatened to kill the passengers, in addition to denying them use of the bathroom.
ICE has dismissed the allegations of mistreatment as false, saying, "No one was injured during the flight, and there were no incidents or altercations that would have caused any injuries on the flight."
Mohamed Liban Yusuf, 21, was among the deportees. He was born in Canada and his family moved to Minnesota in 1996. He was once arrested for an unspecified crime, his mother, Leyla Ahmed, said.
"My son is Canadian and has never seen Somalia in his life," Ahmed told VOA's Somali service. "I lost Yusuf's Canadian birth certificate, and I was trying to get the proof from Canada when he was forcibly taken by ICE."
When the deportees returned to Miami, Yusuf was allowed to speak to his mom over the phone and described the harsh conditions on that flight.
"He told me over the phone with a weak voice that he was shackled for more than 48 hours, tortured, beaten and mistreated," Ahmed said in tears.
Fardowso Omar, a mother of one of the other deportees, said the U.S. wants to deport her son to a country he left as an infant 21 years ago.
"There's nobody in Somalia for my son. His father was killed in Mogadishu. My brother was killed there, too. If they send him to Somalia, I am afraid that I lose him to [terrorist group] al-Shabab," Omar said.
She said her son would have been on another flight to Somalia by Wednesday morning without the federal judge's order.
According to the data from the Somali Embassy in Washington, ICE deported more than 500 Somalis from across the U.S. from October 2016 to September 2017. Most were people whose asylum applications had been rejected.
Abdi Mohamud Mascade contributed to this report from Minneapolis.