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Somali without a home is released
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Jama, relatives, friends, and his attorney at a relative's home in Woodbury after his release from jail. (MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki)
Minnesota Somali Keyse Jama walked out of the Washington County jail Saturday a free man. Jama, who's been locked up since 1998, spent most of his time in custody, not because of his crime. but because he's awaiting deportation.

St. Paul, Minn. — When attorneys told Keyse Jama late Friday that the court had ordered him released, he thought it was a dream. It was no dream. Saturday morning while standing outside the entrance of the Washington County jail, Jama was elated.

"God bless everyone!" he said. "I can't believe it, outside one hour almost. This morning I thought it was a joke. They tell me to sign this release paper. I sign. I cry. When I signed the release paper, I cried. They say, 'why are you crying?' I tell them 'I'm just happy.'"

Jama's road to incarceration began seven years ago after Jama pleaded guilty to third degree assault. Jama, who acknowledges he drank heavily at the time, fought three other Somali men from opposing clans. He knifed all three but the stabs were not life threatening. Nevertheless, the crime meant deportation. Jama served his sentence for that crime, a year and a day. But immigration refused to release him and held him in Minnesota jails and prisons until Saturday.

Outside the jail, Jama's attorney, Kevin Magnuson, called Jama's relatives by cell phone, a device Jama never used. Magnuson then turned the phone over to Jama. "I have someone who wants to talk to you," Magnuson said.

Jama's case gained national attention after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in January that immigration officials could send Jama and other deportees to countries that lacked functioning governments. In April, immigration tried to deport Jama to an area of Somalia known as Puntland but officials there refused to accept him.

When immigration returned Jama to Minnesota, federal Judge Jack Tunheim ordered Jama released. Immigration challenged Jama's release by appealing to the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Immigration won and Jama remained in custody. But late Friday, the 8th circuit reversed course and ruled Jama could be released until deportation.

Jama's uncle by marriage, Said Farah, says he was stunned when he heard Jama's voice.

"This morning when he called me and he was out of the jail, that he will be out, then I was, 'what?'" said Farah.

Farah says Somalis in Minnesota have watched Jama's case closely to learn about their new country.

"We're trying to adapt here. Learn more about the community and the American culture. And I think most Somalians will be happy to have Keyse back out of the jail," he said.

Under the terms of Jama's release, he must check in with immigration authorities every Monday until he's deported. And according to Tim Counts of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, that deportation could come at any time.

"Mr. Jama has a final order of deportation that was issued by a federal judge and the courts, all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court have upheld that deportation order. So we intend to remove him as soon as it is possible," said Counts.

Jama says he understands his time in the U.S. is limited. He says he wants to get a job and earn some money to take with him to Somalia. But for now, he wants to catch up with family, eat Somali food and sleep in a normal bed.

"I'm not going nowhere because I lost my case and happy to go home [if they] accept me," said Jama.

U.S. Immigration officials say they've secured written permission from the President of Puntland that he will accept Jama when immigration delivers him.

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