Immigration lawyers with the Kim Hunter Law firm in St. Paul filed petitions late Friday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota to stop the deportations until their clients could be afforded due process. One of the men has a scheduled court hearing in Minneapolis on Monday.
"We wouldn't be making these claims if we were not confident that there is a strong legal basis for it," said immigration attorney John Bruning. "We prepare for the worst and hope for the best. That's what is guiding us right now."
The lawyers say their clients -- Maxamed Adan, Yonis Ali, Abdoulmalik Ramadan Ibrahim, Abdihakim Mohamed and Abubakar Sheikh -- are not public safety threats and have work histories in the state. One was an employee with the City of Minneapolis, another was a cardiovascular technician at Mayo Clinic, one was a personal care assistant and two were close to graduating from colleges.
Four of the men came to the United States in the 1990s, the fifth in 2004. Most or all were originally ordered to be removed after their previous applications for asylum were denied. All of them had outstanding deportation orders ranging from about 2001 to 2011.
The Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Minnesota was closed for the weekend and not available for comment.
On Friday, when Lisa Temich, one of the attorneys with Kim Hunter Law, went to an Elk River detention facility to speak with three of their clients who were held there, she was told the men were moved to a detention facility in Oakdale, Louisiana, a frequent staging location for removal flights. An ICE agent also told her seven other Somalis were moved to Louisiana.
The attorneys, who said they won't discuss individual cases, now want to re-open the men's cases.
"All we are really requesting is an opportunity for people to have their rights recognized and have their cases adjudicated," said attorney Kim Hunter. "Give them an opportunity to apply for forms of relief that they have now become eligible for that they were not eligible for at the time of their original hearing."
Two of the men are married to U.S. citizens and one to a permanent resident. Lawyers say the men who are married may now become eligible for adjustment status, a process where they can apply for lawful permanent resident status.
The men, who range in age from their early 30s to early 50s, told their lawyers that when they were moved from the Elk River detention facility, the plane landed at least three other times and the people picked up by immigration agents were either Latinos or Somalis. All were taken to Louisiana. One of the men told attorneys he believes more than 140 Somalis are also waiting there to be deported to Somalia.
Lawyer Kim Hunter said many European countries with sizable Somali diaspora are not sending people with outstanding removal orders to Somalia because they see the country as a place "too dangerous to return."
"The United States pretty much stands alone in terms of Western democracies in terms of conducting removals to Somalia," Hunter said.