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Mixed messages on Somalia accepting Jama
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Puntland is said to be a "reasonably stable" section of Somalia. (MPR Graphic/Ben Tesch)
A spokesman for the president of the Somali interim government has told Minnesota Public Radio the government will not accept Keyse Jama or thousands of other Somalis on the U.S. deportation list. Immigration wants to deport Jama for committing a crime in Waseca more than four years ago. In January, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled immigration could deport Jama to Somalia even if no official there would accept him.

St. Paul, Minn. — Keyse Jama fought his deportation by arguing a long-running civil war had left Somalia without a functioning government to which he could be turned over. When the Supreme Court rejected that argument, U.S. immigration officials tried to deport Jama to a relatively stable region of Somalia called Puntland in April. That attempt failed when Puntland officials refused to accept him. Immigration flew Jama back to Minnesota and continues to hold him in the Washington County jail.

Shortly after Jama returned, a federal judge ordered him released until immigration could secure a safe and lawful deportation. Immigration, however, told U.S. District Judge Jack Tunheim Puntland officials had changed course. They said the president of Puntland gave written permission to accept Jama. Jama's attorneys asked to see the document but immigration refused to show it to them or Judge Tunheim.

A spokesperson for the interim Somali government which presumably oversees the Puntland region says the transitional government will not accept Jama or other deportable Somalis.

Dahir Jibreel, the president's cabinet chief for the Somali interim government, and Minneapolis teacher says Somalia is still too dangerous.

"We have to implement the government program of returning the rule of law in Somalia before the issue of immigration and people being deported from North America, United States, or from Europe. [They] can't be returned back to Somalia. We don't have to endanger their lives, return them to a place which has not a 100 percent security," said Jibreel.

Court documents say immigration plans to deport Jama by the end of the month. Minnesota Public Radio has made numerous requests to speak with the president of Puntland without success.

Jabreel, however, says no one from the U.S. government has contacted the transitional Somali government about deporting Jama or any other Somalis. And he says, even if the U.S. government has gotten written permission, it had a duty to deal directly with the transitional government.

"After the formation of the recognized government in Somalia, the United States can just drop a person in one part of Somali without informing the government in place. We should not accept people to be dropped in one part of Somali just like boxes," he says.

The U.S. State Department referred calls to the Immigration Customs and Enforcement Agency. Immigration spokesman Tim Counts would not comment on tape and said immigration does not comment on pending removals.

Deborah Anker, who heads the Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Harvard Law School, says she's troubled not only about the conflicting accounts but also that immigration will not let the court see the written approval from the president of Puntland.

"This isn't security information. This is about returning someone to a country with a government. If the government is going to accept them then there has to be some written assurance from the government," Anker says.

Jama's attorney, Kevin Magnuson, says the mixed signals from Somalia on accepting Jama raise questions about Jama's safety if he is deported. On the other hand, Magnuson says Jama, who has spent five years in Minnesota's prison system, will be disappointed that his incarceration will continue.

"If this is going to be an argument to continue to detain him for weeks or months or even years, that's the absolute worst result we could get. Mr. Jama needs to be released as quickly as possible until they actually can safely deport him to Somalia." Magnuson said.

Jama's lawyers asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals to lift an emergency stay keeping Jama incarcerated until deportation. An 8th Circuit three-judge panel denied that request on a 2-to-1 vote.