ST. PAUL ― The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Ali Abdalla, a Coon Rapids man and U.S. citizen who was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 11 months while slated for unlawful deportation.
Named defendants include the United States of America, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, a number of ICE officials and Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott.
Abdalla came to the United States as a teenage refugee in 2003 and completed naturalization to become a U.S. citizen. He was arrested by ICE in July 2017.
Between July 2017 and March 2018, he was moved back and forth several times between jails in Freeborn and Nobles counties, and then spent the rest of his incarceration in Sherburne County Jail until his release in June 2018.
Abdalla reports that he told ICE agents and jailers repeatedly that he was a citizen, but none of them investigated his claim ― although it has been ICE policy since 2009 that claims of citizenship must be investigated seriously and thoroughly.
With the help of an immigration attorney, Abdalla was able to plead his case in January 2018 before Immigration Judge Ryan Wood, who found that Abdalla was in fact a citizen and should be released from ICE custody. However, ICE refused to release him and appealed the case to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration Appeals.
Abdalla says that continued incarceration after his citizenship was confirmed “messed me up,” distressing him to the point that the Nobles County Jail administered medication for anxiety. Once he was moved to the Sherburne County Jail, Abdalla was denied this medication.
Abdalla was only released after filing a petition for writ of habeas corpus (a document that reports unlawful imprisonment) in U.S. District Court.
The complaint filed by the ACLU says that Abdalla’s incarceration “was unjustified and completely unlawful. At no time during the detention was there any lawful basis to imprison Mr. Abdalla. Nor was there any basis to substitute the Immigration Judge’s conclusion regarding Mr. Abdalla’s citizenship with ICE’s own conclusion. ICE’s conduct and failure to protect the rights to Mr. Abdalla … shocks the conscience.”
The ACLU alleges that racism and Islamophobia were factors in ICE’s decision to detain Abdalla.
“It is not hard to conceive that the Defendants would have treated him better had he been white and Christian,” the complaint reads.
Abdalla lists a number of personal injuries and damages as a result of ICE’s conduct, including deprivation of liberty and due process, mental and emotional distress and continual abuse and constraint.
He makes seven claims for relief: false arrest, false imprisonment, negligence, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress, deprivation of liberty without due process and deprivation of medical care without due process. The complaint cites violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.
Abdalla and the ACLU are requesting a jury trial to determine that what Abdalla claims is accurate, to award him appropriate financial compensation, to prevent ICE from acting similarly in the future and to require the Sherburne County Sheriff to verify the citizenship of all jail inmates.