Victim of Persecution Finally Released from Immigration Prison

April 20, 2010

SAN DIEGO – After more than twenty months in detention in an immigration prison, Somali victim of grave persecution Abdala Warsame Abdille was released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) late Friday evening into the care of his family. The government had held him on specious claims of “national security” that were never supported by the evidence.

“When I was released on Friday, I could not believe it until I was walking on the city streets,” said Abdille. “I was almost crying because of happiness. Now that I am with my family I remember how miserable life was in detention.”

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties filed a ground-breaking petition for writ of habeas corpus on November 3, 2009, calling on the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the DHS to justify Abdille’s continued detention in a fair hearing.

“Mr. Abdille faced a lifetime of persecution in his homeland, but instead of finding refuge here he found prison walls,” said Sean Riordan, staff attorney with the San Diego ACLU. “This case has been agonizing and emotional for all as we watched him suffer through month after month of unjustified imprisonment. His prolonged incarceration illustrates the flaws of an immigration system that often disregards the welfare of survivors of torture and indiscriminately brands the victims of terrorism as ‘terrorists.’”

DHS has tried to block Abdille’s application for asylum by claiming he afforded “material support to a terrorist organization” when a militia kidnapped him, killed his cousin in front of him, and forced to stand in a road holding a gun on threat of death, until he was able to escape a short time later.

Though an immigration judge found Abdille’s story of persecution fully credible, a finding affirmed by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), both made a technical finding that he provided “material support,” even though he acted involuntarily. Both the immigration judge and BIA believed that the “material support” statute contains no exception for conduct done under duress, however, Mr. Abdille will eventually be eligible for an administrative “duress exemption” to the “material support” bar.

The ACLU’s habeas petition claims that it violates the Immigration and Nationality Act and due process to incarcerate Abdille without a hearing where the government must justify his detention. The organization also claims that the government’s denial of Abdille’s initial request for release without a legitimate rationale rendered his detention arbitrary. A district court judge denied the habeas petition, and the petition is now pending at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Upon his release Friday evening, Abdille was tagged with a GPS bracelet and will be monitored by ICE officials and an ICE contractor.

“Mr. Abdille is a kind young man who has suffered terrible persecution throughout his life,” said Kara Peterson, an attorney with law firm Gordon and Rees LLP, who is representing Abdille pro bono. “He believes in the promise of hope and sanctuary that our country still represents to so many around the world. The government’s decision to release him will allow him to begin to pursue his humble dream of a safe and promising future.”

“I’m thankful to the ACLU lawyers and Kara, because I would have suffered even more in detention without their help,” Abdille said.

# # #