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Somali “Slave Ship” ICE Detainees Say Florida Guards Are Abusing Them, Ask Congress for Help

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In December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested 92 Somali immigrants — many of them longtime U.S. residents with families, homes, and jobs. The feds loaded them onto an airplane, kept the immigrants chained in the sky for 48 straight hours as the plane took off from Louisiana for Somalia, stopped inexplicably in Senegal, turned around, and landed in Miami. The men say ICE guards beat them and harassed them the entire time, and many say they were denied access to the bathroom and forced to relieve themselves in their seats. (ICE denies the claims.)

Though some of the immigrants have been transferred to detention centers closer to their homes, 52 of them are still housed at the Glades County Detention Center just west of Lake Okeechobee.

But the Somalis say their mistreatment hasn’t ended back in U.S. custody. Lawyers for the group filed formal administrative complaints with ICE January 8, which say the detainees have been denied medical care, subjected to racial slurs including the N-word, being illegally thrown into solitary confinement, and even excessively pepper-sprayed.

Yesterday, lawyers for the group — a coalition of human-rights advocates including members of the University of Miami law school’s Immigration Clinic, the Broward County Legal Aid Society, and Americans for Immigrant Justice — also sent a letter to five Florida members of Congress, including South Florida’s Frederica Wilson, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, and Ted Deutch, asking for help and alleging the abuse has not stopped.

In fact, the lawyers say the guards excessively pepper-sprayed two detainees again only three days ago.

“The instances of verbal and physical abuse that our clients are having to endure, excessive force including beatings and pepper-spraying detainees who are already in segregation cells, racial epithets including ‘nigger’ and ‘boy,’ the misuse of disciplinary segregation, are all unconscionable and intolerable in a civilized society,’ the lawyers wrote yesterday, according to a copy New Times obtained.

The letter also addresses U.S. Rep. Thomas J. Rooney and Florida Sen. Denise Grimsley because the detention center is located in their districts.

“Quite frankly, if these circumstances existed in another country, the Glades County Detention Center would be on a ‘watch-list’ for humanitarian rights organizations, and yet, this is occurring in your district,” the letter says.

The immigrants’ stories were already harrowing. ICE has still not explained why the original plane carrying the 92 men was forced to turn around without landing in Somalia. According to the New York Times, which broke news of the flight, the men — 28 of them from Somali communities in Minnesota — were being held at a detention center in Louisiana to await deportation. (Roughly two-thirds of the detainees had criminal records, and a smaller percentage had been convicted of violent crimes, but others were simply parents and business owners living in the States on expired visas or after failed asylum claims.)

But lawyers for the group say no one has explained why the men were roused in the predawn hours of December 7, chained on the plane, and flown overseas, only for the aircraft to land early and turn around for Miami. (ICE admitted the men were kept in shackles but denies they were abused.)

“It’s still a big mystery what happened,” Lisa Lehner, a lawyer for Americans for Immigrant Justice, told New Times in December. “Just a strange situation.”

Fearing they’d be shipped off again, the immigrants filed a federal lawsuit December 18, demanding a judge halt their deportations indefinitely. The suit also mentioned that ICE deported the men without consulting any of their lawyers.

Somalia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world, and lawyers for the group argue that sending the immigrants back there would make them targets for kidnappings or robberies and constitute an act of cruel and unusual punishment. On January 30, a federal judge in Miami temporarily blocked ICE from deporting the group again, ruling the immigrants have the right to reopen their asylum cases “based on changed circumstances arising in the country of nationality or in the country to which deportation has been ordered.”

In the meantime, the men say guards at Glades County’s ICE detention facility have been regularly beating, berating, and pepper-spraying them whenever they speak up or ask too many questions.

In court filings, ICE has denied that any of the detainees have been abused. Nestor Yglesias, a spokesperson for ICE’s Miami office, told Minnesota Public Radio in January that ICE investigates any complaints of abuse in its facilities.

“ICE is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody,” Yglesias said. “ICE has a strict zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities and takes any allegation seriously. ICE ensures facilities operate in compliance with its rigorous national detention standards through an aggressive inspection program.”

A 2015 New Times investigation revealed cases of “widespread abuse” at a similar ICE detention center in Miami, the Krome Processing Center. New Times reviewed hundreds of pages of detainee and guard complaint documents — the files revealed similar cases of guards allegedly shoving, beating, and yelling at detainees.

According to the initial complaint from the Somali immigrants, the beatings, body-slammings, and pepper-sprayings are alleged to have been severe. On Christmas Day, one detainee, Said Jamale, says he was pepper-sprayed so excessively that the chemical drenched his clothing and the fumes forced nearby detainees into coughing fits. He says he was denied a shower and forced to live with a soaked, stinging face for two days. The initial complaint also alleges that multiple detainees were intentionally beaten and injured, including one man who says guards used a handcuff to slice his wrist. The complaint alleges men were left bleeding, bruised, and covered in pepper spray and denied medical care. Some men say guards pumped pepper spray into their solitary cells until they vomited.

The complaint also alleges that a University of Miami doctor examined the detainees after the flight landed and noted that multiple deportees had injuries from being shackled for too long or too tightly. The doctor said others showed signs of being beaten, including one man with a broken arm, another with a broken hand, and one who suffered from a “likely” eye abrasion that had not been examined. The complaint also alleged that ICE was denying men basic confidential phone calls with their lawyers.

Another man, Agane Warsame, says that after guards began cursing at him, he demanded that they speak to him with basic decency. The complaint alleges the guard laughed at the idea.

“This is Glades County,” the guard allegedly replied. Warsame says a second guard joined in and called him a “nigger” and told him not to speak up.

On January 9, one Minnesota-based lawyer who toured Glades told Minnesota Public Radio that guards stomped on his client Mohamud Hassan’s back — intentionally choosing a spot where the man was still healing from back surgery. (ICE has denied these claims in court filings and instead reportedly alleges some men were placed in solitary confinement after assaulting guards.)

The new letter sent to members of Florida’s congressional delegation says the abuse has not stopped in the month since the complaint was filed. Lawyers for the group say some men have been trapped in solitary confinement for more than 30 days at a time. Last Tuesday, the lawyers also claim, two men were severely pepper-sprayed once more — including one man who says he was sprayed, began suffocating, and was then sprayed again as punishment for screaming, “I can’t breathe!”

“These practices must end,” the lawyers wrote yesterday. “We are calling on your offices, and the others that are copied with this letter, for an investigation into the abuse of immigration detainees at the Glades Detention Center.”

Diaspora

Somali Man charged the deaths of 4 in fatal I-55 accident

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STAUTON, IL – A Colorado truck driver has been charged following an investigation into a multi-vehicle accident that killed 4 people and injured 11 others. Mohamed Jama, 54, of Greeley, Colorado, turned himself in to the Madison County Jail Monday.

The accident happened on southbound I-55 in Madison County on November 21, 2017.

The fatal accident killed 2 sisters, Madisen and Hailey Bertels and a friend, Tori Carroll, and an out of state woman, Vivian Vu in another vehicle.

Authorities say the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer driven by Mohamed Jama failed to slow down and stop for cars in front of him in a construction zone.

By the time it was all over, 7 vehicles were damaged and the people inside them injured or killed.

The sisters attended high school in Staunton.

The deaths deeply touched Staunton where people knew the young women or knew people who were their friends. Many in town were still grieving the loss. Matthew Batson said, “I’ll hear stories about them all the time, even though it’s been five months? Yes, it’s a lasting effect.”

The Madison County State`s Attorney Tom Gibbon said if convicted of all the crimes Mohamed Jama could spend the rest of his life in prison. With summer coming on and more construction zone Gibbons says there`s a warning for all of us.

“Each of us out there in our cars we really need to pay attention, watch out, slow down you never want to see something like this to happen again it so terrible for all the victim I’m sure that no person would want to be the cause of something like this.”

Jama is charged with 4 counts of reckless homicide and 8 counts of reckless driving. He`s being held in the Madison County Jail without bond.

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Books

CANADA: Edmonton author aims to boost diversity in children’s book publishing

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EDMONTON—Two years ago Rahma Mohamed’s then four-year-old daughter saw an Elsa costume, complete with blond braids, and pleaded with her mother to buy it so she would look “beautiful.”

That’s when Mohamed decided her kids needed more cultural inspiration than the blond princess from Frozen.

After a year of work, the first-time author published Muhima’s Quest, a children’s book that tells the story of a young African-America Muslim girl who wakes up on her 10th birthday and goes on a journey.

Now, Mohamed’s at work on her second book, which is due out at the end of the month. She’s on a journey of her own, she said, to boost diversity in children’s publishing.

“I wanted to create a character who had African descent and is a Muslim in a children’s book because I just found out that there were none that were available in the mainstream,” she said.

Her books show kids it’s OK to be different, she said. Take her first book: some Muslims don’t celebrate birthdays, she explains, and the little girl in the book struggles with her faith and questions why she doesn’t celebrate like her classmates do.

“The overall message is that we do things differently, but that part is what makes us beautiful,” Mohamed said.

She said she felt it necessary for her kids to see themselves represented in the books they read in order to “enhance their self-confidence, as well as bolster their sense of pride.”

Mohamed, who writes under the pen name Rahma Rodaah, self-published her first book and since last summer, has sold 200 copies locally.

“It does take a lot of resources and you have to self-finance, but I believe in the end it’s worth it,” she said.

She hopes to go bigger with her second book, which focuses on the universal concept of sibling rivalry, and features a young girl who plans on selling her little brother because she believes he is getting all the attention.

“My overall goal is to portray Muslim Africans who are basically a normal family.”

Mohamed says her previous book was well-received by parents at readings she had done at public libraries and schools.

“Most of them who are Muslims really loved that the kids could identify with the characters,” she said.

The books also acted as a conversation starter for non-Muslim families, she said.

She said, for her, the most exciting part of the journey is knowing that she is making a difference in shaping the minds of young Black Muslims.

“We are underrepresented, misunderstood and mostly mischaracterized. It is time we paint a different picture.”

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Minnesota

When radicalization lured two Somali teenagers … from Norway

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Mukhtar Ibrahim

In October 2013, two Somali teenage girls named Ayan and Leila shocked their parents by running away to join ISIS in Syria. Their radicalization story is unusual in that it happened in Norway.

Acclaimed Norwegian journalist Åsne Seierstad spent years researching what happened. Now her book, “Two Sisters: Into the Syrian Jihad” is available in the United States.

Seierstad, who discusses her book Monday night at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis, said she didn’t go looking for the story.

“The story actually came to me,” she said. “It was the father of the girls who actually wanted the story to be written.”

His name is Sadiq, a Somali man who worked for years to bring his family to Norway. He hoped for a better life. He thought things were going well, then everything collapsed when Ayan and Leila disappeared.

When the girls left home, their parents were in shock, Seierstad said. “They hadn’t understood what was this about. Why? And then as months went by and they got to learn more about radicalization, they realized that all the signs had been there. That the girls were like a textbook case of radicalization. And he [Sadiq] wanted the book to be written to warn others, to tell this story to warn other parents.”

It is a perplexing story. Ayan and Leila were bright, and opinionated. They didn’t put up with being pushed around.

“And that is somehow part of why they left, in their logic,” said Seierstad, adding that the girls were convinced Syria and ISIS offered a chance of eternal life.

“They believed that life here and now is not real life. Real life happens after death. And this life is only important as a test. So the better your score, the better you behave in this life, the better position you will have in heaven for eternity. So isn’t that better?”

Seierstad is known for her in-depth reporting. Her book “One of Us,” about Anders Breivik, the gunman who killed 77 people in Norway’s worst terror attack, is an international best-seller.

When published in Norway Seierstad said, “Two Sisters” became the top-selling book for two years running. What pleases her most is the breadth of her readership. She gets email from young Somali girls, and also from government officials who want to prevent future radicalization.

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