We have noted a growing number of cases in which immigrants are targeted for deportation by the Islamophobic policies of the US immigration authorities, only to face oppression by Islamist thugs who rule in the countries they fled. The Homeland Security Department’s Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has even been attempting to affect deportations to Somalia—even as the CIA is busily trying to overthrow the Islamic Courts Union which has usurped power there. Now, they have just succeeded, in a case which fortunately made page 2 of New York Times Metro Section Nov. 22—albeit after the fact, and too late to help the unfortunate Mohamad Rasheed Jama…
Man’s Deportation to Somalia Sets Off a Wave of Concern Over Safety
On the evening of Nov. 2, a young corporate lawyer in New Jersey received a frantic call from a charity client, a 46-year-old Harlem grocery clerk with a history of petty crime. He was in custody on an airplane in Newark on his way to Mogadishu, the capital of his native Somalia, a country so dangerous that to the lawyer’s knowledge, no one had been deported there in years.
The courts were closed, and a federal judge who heard an emergency motion the next day ruled that the clerk, Mohamad Rasheed Jama, was already outside United States jurisdiction.
So, after a stop in Nairobi, where he was handed over to Kenyans, Mr. Jama stepped off an airplane in Mogadishu — and into the hands of Islamist militants, who soon accused him of being an American spy and began demanding money.
“They were extremely angry,” said his lawyer, Emily B. Goldberg, relating the last frightened call she got from Mr. Jama, who had spent four years in immigration detention in New Jersey awaiting deportation to the land he left at 18. “He asked me if there was anything I could do. I told him in the American system, there was nothing more I could do.”
Mr. Jama, whose deportation was based on a 1989 conviction for owning an unlicensed gun, is among the first Somalis to be repatriated against his will since the United States Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 last year that the lack of a functioning central government in Somalia did not bar such deportations. About 4,000 Somalis nationwide are eligible for immediate deportation under the ruling, which turned on the syntax of a Congressional statute.
The case of Mr. Jama, who has a 9-year-old American daughter in Harlem, highlights issues the nation has wrestled with for decades, such as what to do with deportable immigrants who can neither be detained indefinitely nor safely repatriated, and what should limit the government’s discretion to decide their fate.
Conditions in Somalia have worsened in recent months, moving to the brink of an all-out regional war. In June, Mogadishu was seized by Islamic militias suspected of harboring leaders of Al Qaeda. The militias, after routing warlords backed by the United States, began imposing a Taliban-like regime of strict religious courts.
A week before his abrupt departure, Mr. Jama’s volunteer lawyers filed a habeas petition on his behalf, arguing that his continued detention in the Middlesex County Jail in New Jersey was unlawful because “it is simply beyond dispute that effecting his removal to Somalia would be impossible.”
Michael W. Gilhooly, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, confirmed Mr. Jama’s deportation, declining to say whether more were under way. But at a federal appeals hearing in Seattle last month, a Justice Department lawyer said that three people had been deported to Somalia since the Supreme Court ruling, after volunteering.
Because an injunction halting most such deportations was lifted in April, the government lawyer, Greg D. Mack, added, the others would be deported at the discretion of the Department of Homeland Security.
The 28 years Mr. Jama spent in New York hardly prepared him for survival under Islamic fanatics. His job history, detailed in an affidavit, includes three summers as a “jack of all trades” at Jewish youth camps in Orange County, long hours as a counter man in corner stores on upper Lexington Avenue, as well as garment work in Midtown Manhattan and a stint as a junkyard dealer on 125th Street.
His lengthy rap sheet reflects a drinking problem, he said in the affidavit, and his having adapted too well to Harlem’s “street culture.” Besides a misdemeanor assault and the gun possession, for which he served three years in prison, his offenses include possession of marijuana, selling beer without a license and riding a bus without paying the fare.
But in his old Harlem neighborhood around West 115th Street, he is mainly remembered as a hard worker and good father brought down by alcohol.
“He was very cool, a good dude,” said Lester Robinson, 26, whose sister, Waldrina Robinson, is the mother of Mr. Jama’s daughter, Ashante.
Ms. Robinson, a home attendant, said she ended a five-year relationship with Mr. Jama in 2000, but she spoke warmly of the years after Ashante’s birth in 1997, when Mr. Jama changed the baby’s diapers, often cared for the girl at the grocery store where he worked, and “gave me every dime” he earned.
“He was a good father — when he was there,” she said.
From the government’s perspective, Mr. Jama should have been gone years earlier. In 1978, when Somalia still had a central government, Mr. Jama entered the United States on a one-year visa to work with his father as a security guard at Somalia’s Diplomatic Mission to the United Nations.
Left behind at 19, when his father joined his mother in London, Mr. Jama learned English, earned a high school equivalency diploma and became a permanent legal resident under the immigration amnesty enacted by Congress in 1986. But he bought an illegal handgun for protection after a cousin was killed in a robbery, he said, and was arrested for having it after an alcohol-fueled dispute with other relatives drew the police.
Mr. Jama was ordered deported in 1993. But with no foreseeable chance of deporting him to Somalia, where civil war was raging, the authorities released him under supervision. As was typical at the time, no action was taken when he stopped reporting, even when later infractions led to brief jail time.
After 9/11, attitudes changed. Mr. Jama was picked up in October 2002, as were many other Somalis. But unlike those with comparable records who were provisionally released again when deportations stopped, Mr. Jama had no lawyer until this year. Then the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey took the case and enlisted help from the law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione.
“I want nothing more from life than to be near Ashante and to be involved in her life on a daily basis once again,” Mr. Jama wrote in his affidavit, seeking supervised release to a cousin in Queens who had found him a job in a grocery store. “Although my greatest fear is remaining in immigration detention for the rest of my life and never regaining my freedom, I am also frightened about what could happen if the United States tried to remove me to Somalia.”
As a member of the Warsengeli clan, Mr. Jama faces special danger in areas dominated by other clans, including Mogadishu, a Somalia expert wrote in an affidavit. Other affidavits cited the failed deportation of Keyse G. Jama (no relation), the Somali man who had lost the Supreme Court case, only to be rejected at gunpoint at a Somalia airport and sent back to Minneapolis in the spring of 2005. A federal judge outraged at that botched operation ordered the government to “slow down its rush to act” and release him.
Keyse Jama is now in Canada, where he fled in January and applied for political asylum, which is granted to the vast majority of Somali applicants, said David Yerzy, his Toronto lawyer. “The Canadian government recognizes that their lives are in danger,” he said.
In the United States, lawyers for Somalis are asking whether Mr. Jama’s deportation signals the start of a mass deportation or a warning to those facing indefinite detention that “if you use habeas, you’ll be on the next flight,” said Jeffrey Keyes, the Minneapolis lawyer who argued the Supreme Court case.
In Mogadishu, as far as is known, Mr. Jama is just trying to survive.
“The government demonstrated a complete disregard for my client’s safety,” Ms. Goldberg said. “I strongly believe that Mr. Jama is simply the first of many that will be placed in a similarly dangerous situation.”