St. Paul, Minn. — Somali immigrant Keyse Jama faces deportation because of a conviction for third degree assault. Attorneys for Jama had argued that he can't be deported to Somalia, because that war-torn country has no government that can accept deportees.
But a lawyer for the Bureau of Homeland Security responded that immigration law allows the government to chose from a number of options for dealing with aliens, including deportation, under a wide range of circumstances.
The appeals panel ruled 2 to 1 in favor of the bureau. Judge Morris Arnold wrote for the majority.
"Whether it is politically wise, efficient, or considerate for the United States to remove an alien without the prior acceptance of the alien's destination is, quite simply, a question that lies outside our province," Judge Arnold wrote. "Congress is free to fix the statute if it needs fixing, and Congress knows how to do so if it wishes."
Judge Kermit Bye dissented. He noted that for nearly half a century, it has been federal policy not to deport aliens unless their homeland is willing to accept them.
Attorney Michelle Garnett McKenzie of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights says attorneys will appeal the case to the full Eighth Circuit Court, and possibly to the Supreme Court.
"The way that the Eight Circuit has ruled in this opinion is contrary to the way the Second Circuit ruled 44 years ago, in the case of Tom Man," McKenzie says.
Nationwide, some 2700 Somalis face deportation. In a class action lawsuit, a district judge in Seattle has issued a nationwide injunction against Somali deportations.
The Keyse Jama ruling does not affect that injunction. However, the 9th Circuit court in Seattle is also considering the issue of Somali deportations, and the Jama ruling could influence that ruling.
In Minnesota, most Somalis facing deportation are covered by the Seattle class action injunction, but Somalis who filed lawsuits before the injunction are not. That includes Keyse Jama and about a dozen other Somalis who are currently being detained in a state prison at Rush City.
The Bureau of Homeland Security issued a statement saying it's pleased that the Jama ruling "reaffirms" its legal authority to deport Somalis. A spokesman said the Bureau will take no immediate action to deport Jama, but will wait for further legal developments. He said other Somali deportations not covered by the class action lawsuit will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Osman Sahardeed of the Somali community of Minnesota says he's deeply disappointed by the ruling.
"We will definitely go to the Somali radio and the Somali TV and explain to them what the ruling's all about, and try to assure people that they are in a country where you have rules and laws, and a process," Sahardeed says. "They should take advantage of that and be calm and have faith in the system and those who are working for them."
Sahardeed says members of the Somali community will meet with representatives of the Bureau of Homeland Security, the FBI, and the state Attorney General's office on May 30, and he says Somalis will ask how authorities will respond to this latest development. The meeting was scheduled before the Appeals Court released its ruling.