A Florida judge has issued a temporary stay of deportation for 92 Somali immigrants who, according to a class-action lawsuit filed Tuesday, were subjected to "inhumane conditions and egregious abuse" during a failed deportation effort by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
The order signed Wednesday by District Judge Darrin Gayles prohibits the Somalis involved in the case from being deported and requires ICE to provide medical treatment for any injuries they might have sustained.
"I am troubled by this order, which appears to ignore the fact that all of these aliens were lawfully ordered removed from the US after full and fair proceedings," Homan wrote. "Further, this order hinders ICE's efforts to address the clear public safety threat posed by these aliens -- the vast majority of whom have criminal convictions, including some with convictions for murder, rape, aggravated assault, and sexual assault. ICE has a sworn duty to enforce our immigration laws and protect the safety and security of Americans, and this misguided court order impedes the fulfillment of our lawful mission."
In their lawsuit filing, the seven plaintiffs representing the Somalis allege deplorable conditions during their nearly two-day deportation journey earlier this month.
The deportees boarded an ICE-chartered plane in Louisiana bound for Somalia on December 7. However, the plane made it only as far as Dakar, Senegal, where it then sat on the runway for almost a day before returning to the US.
In a statement at the time, ICE said the plane returned to the US because of logistical issues and the flight would be rescheduled.
"The aircraft, including the detainees and crew on board, remained parked at the airport to allow the relief crew time to rest. During this time, the aircraft maintained power and air conditioning, and was stocked with sufficient food and water," the statement reads.
The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs were shackled "at their wrists, waist and legs" for the entire trip.
"The guards did not loosen the shackles, even when the deportees told them that the shackles were painful because they were too tight, that their arms and legs were swollen and were bruised," the lawsuit alleges.
It also describes abuses by the ICE officers and lack of access to adequate bathroom facilities.
"When the plane's toilets overfilled with human waste, some of the detainees were left to urinate into bottles or on themselves. ICE agents wrapped some who protested, or just stood up to ask a question, in full-body restraints. ICE agents kicked, struck, or dragged detainees down the aisle of the plane, and subjected some to verbal abuse and threats," the lawsuit details.
The suit was filed jointly by the University of Minnesota Law School, the University of Miami School of Law, Legal Aid Service of Broward County and Americans for Immigrant Justice. It asks the court to reopen the immigrants' removal cases, arguing that deporting them to Somalia would endanger their lives. It also asks the court to prevent their deportation until they are able to seek treatment for injuries sustained during the December 7 flight and to ensure that abuses will not take place on another flight.
Rebecca Sharpless, a professor at the University of Miami School of Law who is director of the school's immigration clinic, said that due to the escalation of violence in Somalia by the group al-Shabaab, as well as far-reaching news stories about the deportation flight, the individuals would be in danger if they returned.
The temporary stay signed by Gayles also orders that the Somali immigrants have "reasonable access to their attorneys."
The hearing is scheduled for January 2.