The U.S. government says almost 5,000 Somali nationals in the U.S. face deportation orders.
"As of April 1, 2017, there were 4,801 Somali nationals with final orders of removal," U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesman Brendan Raedy said Tuesday. "As of that same date, 237 Somali nationals have been removed to Somalia in fiscal year 2017."
The statement confirmed information VOA obtained from Somalia's U.S. ambassador 10 days ago.
Ambassador Ahmed Isse Awad told VOA's Somali service his embassy had learned that U.S. immigration agents were planning to deport about 4,000 Somali nationals now living in the United States.
Most of them have committed crimes. "ICE continues to focus its limited enforcement resources toward individuals who pose a threat to national security, public safety and border security," Raedy said.
He added, however, that any immigrant who is in the U.S. illegally is subject to deportation. "All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention and, if found removable by final order, removal from the United States."
Most of the Somalis facing final orders of removal are not in detention centers and are unlikely to be removed in the near term because their cases are making their way through the system.
ICE would not confirm any upcoming flights. "Due to operational security, I cannot confirm removal flights until they have been completed," an ICE official told VOA.
Since Somalia's embassy in Washington reopened in November 2015, the ambassador said, about 170 Somali immigrants who either ran afoul of U.S. law or had their asylum applications rejected have been deported to Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
Most of those previously deported had applied for but been denied political asylum in the U.S., he added. Another group of Somali applicants whose requests for asylum have been denied are now in detention centers or prisons, awaiting deportation.
Fewer than 300 Somalis are scheduled to be moved out in the next couple of months, Awad told VOA, adding that his embassy was awaiting information from U.S. authorities on who the deportees were and when they would depart.
ICE agents recently arrested 82 people from 26 nations during a five-day operation in and around the U.S. capital.
According to a statement from ICE, 68 of those detained March 26-30 had previous criminal convictions, for crimes including armed robbery, larceny and drug offenses. All but three were arrested in the state of Virginia.
One of those arrested last month, Awad said, was a 50-year-old Somali man who identified himself as second in command of Somalia's National Security Service. He had previously been deported to Somalia in 1996.
"According to ICE, he came back to the U.S. in 1997 under a different name," the Somali envoy said. "In 2014, he was jailed for 11 months for forgery and drug-related crimes, and since then has committed several other felonies."
U.S. immigration officials said eight of those arrested during ICE's end-of-March roundup had no known criminal records; they either had overstayed visitor visas or ignored final orders to leave the country.
Some of the Somali nationals who already have been sent back to their homeland have told VOA and media outlets in Somalia they found a different and dangerous country awaiting them in East Africa.
Because Somalia has lacked a strong central government for more than a quarter-century, many Western nations have refrained from forcibly returning Somali immigrants to their home country because of safety concerns.
U.S. immigration policies have been tightened considerably under the administration of President Donald Trump, and such a clemency policy for Somali nationals is no longer being observed. Trump's travel order banned the issuance of visas to citizens of Somalia and five other countries. The order has been put on hold by two courts pending a review of its constitutionality.
VOA national security correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.