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Newcomer Mazahir Salih wins Iowa City Council seat

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IOWA CITY — Two familiar faces were re-elected to the Iowa City Council Tuesday night, while newcomer Mazahir Salih won the third open seat.

Current at-large member Susan Mims was elected to her third term on council, this time to represent District B after defeating opponent and University of Iowa student Ryan Hall with 4,197 votes to 2,920.

Mayor Pro Tem Kingsley Botchway II, with 5,638, votes was re-elected to his at-large seat, after both he and Salih, with 5,573 votes, beat out opponent and Nighttime Mayor Angela Winnike, who tallied 1,388 votes.

“(I’m) very pleased to have the opportunity to serve the community for another four years,” Mims said, adding that she believes now the council will review and update its strategic plan. “I would think it would look a lot similar to what we have.

“We’ve still got a lot of things to do on the environmental stuff, climate change, affordable housing. I don’t think we’ll see significant changes because we’re still in the middle of a lot of those things.”

All three terms are for four years each. Tuesday’s election winners will join current Mayor Jim Throgmorton as well as council members Rockne Cole, Pauline Taylor and John Thomas.

Current District B representative Terry Dickens did not seek re-election.

During the campaign, both Salih and Botchway discussed improving Iowa City’s affordable housing situation. The current council adopted an Affordable Housing Action Plan, which was approved in September 2016, to address the lack of appropriate housing within the city.

Botchway said now that some work on the affordable housing issue is underway, he also wants to emphasize creating mental health programs and policies in his next term.

“That’s a larger conversation and we need to get a lot of stakeholders together,” Botchway said, noting that some area officials already have undergone crisis intervention training. “The mental health platform that I’ve discussed is a little more comprehensive than that in making sure to focus on mental illness across the board.”

Salih, who worked as a community organizer with the Center for Worker Justice, expressed interested during the campaign in improving the city’s transit system, especially for low-income residents. The public transportation system currently offers no service on Sundays with hourly stops on weekdays on most routes.

“I think low-wage workers, they need transportation on Sunday, after hours like second shift,” said Salih, who could not be reached for comment by deadline on Tuesday for this story. “While I talk to people in this community, some people have great ideas but they cannot participate on, like, City Council meetings, school board meetings because transportation ends early in some parts of the city.”

Iowa City Council members earn a salary of $7,155.20, while the mayor receives $8,153.60, according to an email from City Clerk Kellie Fruehling. The salaries are adjusted for inflation at the end of each September but aren’t implemented until July 1.

VOTER TURNOUT

This year saw low voter turnout, with only 15.5 percent of registered voters showing up to polls Tuesday. In the 2015 city election, Iowa City saw a 15.2 percent turnout while 2013 had a 22.39 percent turnout, thanks in part to a ballot measure that concerned an under-21 bar ordinance.

“We saw early voting numbers down, but we were hoping that people would turn out today. I mean these are very key races,” said Johnson County Auditor Travis Weipert Tuesday afternoon.

l Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.co

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Briefing Room

“America is home”: How Trump’s immigration policies are upending Somali lives in the US

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Maruf Sharif was shackled in the plane, which was flying him over the Atlantic Ocean to a country he hadn’t seen for almost three decades.

But before the flight’s final destination at the Somali capital Mogadishu, it stopped for a layover in Dakar, Senegal. There, a disturbing narrative was revealed about the ordeal endured by Sharif and the 91 other Somali deportees who were being returned to Somalia.

During the flight, a lawsuit filed by some of the detainees notes that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents forced them to stay seated, denied them access to a bathroom, and “kicked, struck, choked, and dragged” them. This “inhumane” treatment lasted for 48 hours—23 of which the plane sat on the runway in Senegal.

Citing logistical problems, immigration officials eventually decided to turn the plane and head back to the United States. It’s not completely clear why this happened. ICE told the New York Times that a relief flight crew had been unable to get sufficient rest.

The aircraft and its detainees spent their time in Dakar parked at the airport. Observers say the episode gives insight into the poorly planned and hasty nature of the deportation agenda under the Trump’s immigration policy.

However, the return to the US was a relief for Sharif and his family, who were fighting his deportation and who had tried everything to keep him in the US. The trip back also saved Sharif from taking the reverse journey back to Somalia where he left when he was just eight years old.

In the mid-1990s, after fleeing Somalia’s civil war and living in Kenya as a refugee, Sharif and his family were granted resettlement and moved to the United States. As a teenager navigating the streets of Columbus, Ohio, he started hanging out with the wrong crowd, and in 2002, was convicted of aggravated assault and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
After a decade, Sharif was released on parole in 2012 and went about rebuilding his life. Despite his criminal record, he started working the system to get his driver’s license, got engaged, and got a stable job working at a restaurant where he worked himself from dishwasher to second chef. Members of his family who spoke to Quartz said that he was really determined to change his life and start a family.

“He was really improving,” Ahmed Aden, a relative of Sharif’s who lives in Nairobi, told Quartz. “He was very passionate and working hard.”

But all that changed in early 2017 after president Donald Trump was elected into office. On Jan. 2017, Trump barred the citizens of seven majority Muslim nations including Somalia from entering the United States. While the ban was challenged in courts and Iraq removed from the list, the Supreme Court allowed it to take full effect in December. As Trump pushed for tougher immigration enforcement, federal immigration officials also stepped up their arrests of undocumented immigrants and refugees.

This was bad news for Sharif, who wasn’t an American citizen yet. After being summoned by his parole officer in early 2017, Sharif was detained by ICE officials and informed that he will be deported back to Somalia. Despite his unfortunate circumstances, the 35-year-old was hardly the only one facing deportation. In the last year, forced removals by ICE officials of Somali citizens have more than doubled, jumping from 198 in 2016 to 521 in 2017.

Kim Hunter, an immigration lawyer in Minnesota, said that up until last year, the civil strife and insecurity in Somalia deterred officials from deporting immigrants. Only those with “the most serious criminal records” were being expelled, while those working and living lawfully were even assured by officials that they weren’t priorities.

“The Trump Administration put a great deal of pressure on Somalia to start accepting deportees,” Hunter, who has two clients who were due for deportation, said. “And as with so many actions by the current government, this has generated a lot of confusion and fear.”

Trump’s reversal of long-standing immigration policies was bound to impact the Somalis, one of the largest African immigrant communities in the US. Over the last few years, Somalis in the US have become the microcosm of the debate surrounding immigration, refugee resettlement, and national security.

In 2016, a federal jury found three men guilty of plotting to join the terror group ISIL overseas. This made the community vulnerable to surveillance; at one point, the Federal Bureau of Investigation directed its agents to use a community outreach program for spying.

During the presidential elections, Trump also singled out Somalis multiple times, accusing them of coming from “dangerous territories,” fraying social nets, and blamed faulty vetting processes for allowing a large number of Somalis to come to states like Minnesota, Maine, and Ohio.

Kali Mohamed, a community activist in Minneapolis, says this is “unfair” given that members of the community own businesses, pay taxes, and annually send more than $200 million in remittances back home. In 2016, voters of the District 60B in southeast Minneapolis also elected Ilhan Omar, who became the first Somali-American Muslim female legislator in the US.

Kali says the increased scrutiny, travel bans, and subsequent deportations now threaten to instill fear and suspicion and break up families. “It’s really hard trying to navigate through all this,” he said.

State of limbo

After almost a year in detention, Sharif was slated for deportation back to Somalia in mid-December. That’s when he landed in Senegal, shackled along with the others. Afterwards, a federal judge in Florida granted them a temporary reprieve and they were taken to various detention centers in Florida.

At the Glades county detention facility where Sharif is, several Somali detainees have since complained of alleged maltreatment and abuse. In a sworn affidavit seen by Quartz by immigration lawyer John Bruning from Kim Hunter’s law firm, detainees complained of being verbally abused and being subjected to excessive physical force.

Sharif’s family, however, confirmed to Quartz that he has suffered no physical injuries while at Glades but was put in solitary confinement for about a week for refusing to remove his kufi cap.

Lawyers like Hunter now hope that this period of stay would allow them to reopen appeal cases for their clients. And families like Sharif’s hope he would be allowed to stay, and not return to a dangerous country that recently experienced its deadliest terror attack ever.

Aden says that before he was arrested, Sharif called to convey how his life was turning positively. “He is very expressive and frank and he would tell you how he was happy,” Aden said. “He would say ‘America is home.’”

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Africa

Trump criticised over ‘shithole countries’ remark

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AL JAZEERA — A small group of US senators say they reached a compromise on immigration reform, but it has yet to win the support of President Donald Trump.

According to several reports, Trump made vulgar remarks about Haiti, El Salvador and African countries during the discussions, calling them “shithole countries” and objecting to immigrants coming from there.

He suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway.

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Somali News

Roger Stone’s New Gig: Lobbying for Drone Strikes in Somalia

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Veteran Republican operative and self-described “ratfucker” Roger Stone is advocating for military operations, including drone strikes, in Somalia on behalf of his first lobbying client in 17 years.

Stone recently disclosed that he had done lobbying work for a Buffalo-area company that acts as a middleman for the sale of African livestock to clients around the world. In his disclosure form, he formally said that he is pressing for “commodity rights and security” in Somalia and working on issues related to economic policy and commodity trading.

But in text messages with The Daily Beast, Stone suggested that his work for the company—investment firm Capstone Financial Group—has focused on U.S. military and foreign policy as well.

The goal, he said, is to achieve a more stable security situation in Somalia that will allow his client to more freely conduct business in that country. And that, he said, calls for an aggressive U.S. military posture.

“Capstone interests are in stability. Their business interests in the county can not be realized [if] the country is war torn,” Stone said. “The Al Queda off-shoot [sic] Al Shabaab is quite violent and deadly. The topography of Somalia unlike Afghanistan lends itself to a successful drone based US campaign against the insurgency.”

Despite a rich history in electoral politics and the influence industry, Stone hasn’t registered to lobby the federal government since 2000 when he represented the company of his longtime confidante and future president, one Donald Trump. Stone’s work for Capstone began in May 2017, as the Trump administration stepped up U.S military operations in Somalia, including a major escalation in drone strikes against insurgent groups in the country. The number of U.S. troops in Somalia has more than doubled to over 500 since Trump took office.

Initial reports on Stone’s registration suggested that he may have flouted the legal timeline for disclosure of lobbying activity. But Stone insists that he disclosed that activity in a timely manner as required. He’s worked with Capstone since May, Stone told The Daily Beast. But, he added, reportable lobbying activity only began in November.
That lobbying itself was sparse, Stone said. It consisted only of “casual conversation on two occasions with a single member of Congress about the status of the insurgency and the security of Somalia.” Stone declined to specify which member of Congress with whom he spoke. But the offices of Reps. Chris Collins (R-NY) and Brian Higgins (D-NY), who represent the area of Buffalo/Western New York where Capstone is based, both denied that they had been lobbied by Stone.

Capstone and its chief executive, a prominent investor and Hillary Clinton donor named Darin Pastor, did not respond to multiple requests for comment. But the firm’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission suggest that it has significant business interests in Somalia.

In late 2016, it inked multiple deals with unidentified suppliers to sell sheep and cattle to customers in countries including the gulf nation of Oman. Though it redacted the names of its suppliers, the filings mentioned they were based in Africa, and one in particular suggested a Somali seller by alluding to the drought that ravaged the country from 2015 until last year.

“Investors should be aware that the opportunities we are pursuing in the livestock trading and minerals industries tend to be exceptionally high-risk,” the company said in a filing in late 2016.

Capstone seems to be an obscure client for an operative with Stone’s high profile. But the company also has interesting geographic ties. Somalia’s current president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, lived in the Buffalo area, and worked for New York state government, before returning to his native country to run for the office he now occupies.

The Somali government’s official U.S. lobbying firm, Park Strategies, also maintains a Buffalo office. That firm linked up with Mohamed by way of Joel Giambra, a Park Strategies VP and former Erie County executive who on Wednesday announced a New York gubernatorial run. Giambra and Mohamed became good friends while the latter worked in New York’s department of transportation, according to John Zagame, another Park Strategies VP who works on the Somalia account.

Zagame said he wasn’t familiar with Stone’s work on the issue, but welcomes all efforts to improve the security situation in Somalia. “You’d like to see Somalia stabilized enough to receive some foreign investment,” Zagame told The Daily Beast. “They are resource rich, but what company is going to go into a situation where your people aren’t safe?”

Lasting security there, Zagame noted, will require the training of Somali forces more than the drone strike campaigns to which Stone alluded. But any help in bringing Somali security issues to the attention of U.S. policymakers is welcome.

“I don’t know what Roger Stone is doing,” Zagame said. “Whatever he’s doing, if it can help, more power to him.”

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