Back in December 2017, Immigration and Customs Enforcement chartered a plane to send 92 Somali citizens they had rounded up back to their homeland. But most of the Somali 92, as they came to be known, had no real ties to Somalia. Many had left there decades ago, fleeing with their families from a country wracked by violence and famine and that has had no functioning central government since 1991.
The plane only got as far as Senegal, where it turned around due to logistical problems. The Somali 92’s 5,000-mile round trip ended back in Miami, where detainees sat on an airport tarmac for 48 hours.
The Trump administration immediately announced it would charter a new flight to Somalia for the 92 detainees, but the group filed a class-action lawsuit arguing that they should remain in the United States because government policy bars deportation to war-torn countries. The Somalis also claimed they were abused during the first flight and after their arrival back in Miami.
“As the plane sat on the runway, the 92 detainees remained bound, their handcuffs secured to their waists, and their feet shackled together,” according to the lawsuit, which was discussed here in a Miami New Times story. “When the plane’s toilets overfilled with human waste, some of the detainees were left to urinate into bottles or on themselves. ICE agents wrapped some who protested, or just stood up to ask a question, in full-body restraints. ICE agents kicked, struck, or dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane, and subjected some to verbal abuse and threats.”
In March of this year, a federal judge dismissed the class-action and deportations of detainees began the following month, according to this story in The Intercept. But it’s hard to fully account for the current whereabouts of the Somali 92 because ICE initially sent most of them to two Florida facilities, Krome Service Processing Center, in Miami and the even more isolated Glades County Detention Center. Others were scattered around the country at detention camps in Georgia, Louisiana and possibly elsewhere. A few were freed to fight their deportations; others asked to go back to Somalia because that seemed better than being detained indefinitely at the government’s camps.
I met Abshir (an alias), one of the few remaining members of the Somali 92 still held at Krome, during a reporting trip earlier this year for The New Republic. My story focused on the abysmal conditions for mentally ill detainees at Krome, which has boasted about its allegedly five-star treatment.
Abshir told me he had never suffered from depression before being held at Krome, but now he’s on a steady stream of medications. He’s lived in the United States since 1997, when he came to Minneapolis as a refugee with his family. He’d been almost completely cut off from family members and friends, almost all who still live in Minneapolis.
When I spoke with him he expressed confidence that he would be able to get his deportation order lifted because he hadn’t set foot in Somalia for more than two decades, knows no one there, and the country is in chaos. But I recently heard from an advocacy group working with Abshir that his case had been rejected. A member of the group told me that he wasn’t sure when Abshir would be deported, but there were no further grounds for appeal. The only thing the group could do for his now was take him a suitcase of clothing so he’d have something to wear upon his arrival in Somalia.
Incidentally, virtually no Somalis were deported to Somalia for decades until the Obama administration resumed the practice in 2013, though it limited that to people convicted of serious crimes. It later expanded that to allow for the deportation of recent arrivals, but the Trump administration lifted restrictions so any Somali without legal documents could be put in the deportation pipeline. The numbers to be deported immediately skyrocketed, from 198 in 2016 to 521 the following year.
This report from Human Rights Watch gives an idea of the situation facing Abshir and other Somalis being sent back home. “Fighting, insecurity and lack of state protection, and recurring humanitarian crises had a devastating impact on Somali civilians in 2018,” the report said. “The number of internally displaced people, many living unassisted and at risk of serious abuse, reached an estimated 2.7 million. The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab subjected people living under its control to harsh treatment, forced recruitment, and carried out deadly attacks targeting civilians.”