U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison on Thursday called for investigations into reports that federal immigration agents have mistreated 92 Somalis who were shackled for 2 days on a botched deportation flight.
Ellison, a Democrat who represents Minnesota’s 5th District, home to a large Somali-American community, said constituents contacted him “to express grave concern about alleged human rights abuses of 92 Somali nationals while in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in transit through Dakar, Senegal” from Dec. 7 to Dec. 9.
The flight left around 3 a.m. on Dec. 7 from Louisiana, but the detainees never made it to Somalia. They were returned to Miami around midnight on Dec. 8.
Some of those on the flight said in a lawsuit that agents physically and verbally abused them during the flight, which lasted for 40 hours, including 23 hours when the flight was on the ground at an airport in Dakar.
As the plane sat on the runway, the 92 detainees remained bound, their handcuffs secured to their waists, and their feet shackled together for 48 hours, according to the lawsuit.
Seven men who filed the lawsuit on behalf of their fellow Somali detainees, who are now in detention centers in Florida, allege that when the plane’s toilets overfilled with human waste, they were left to urinate into bottles or on themselves. They say agents allegedly restrained them, kicked them and dragged them down the aisle.
Calling the abuse reports “profoundly disturbing,” Ellison said he’s pressing the agency to explain:
• Why the plane returned to the U.S.
• “Why were individuals with medical needs not allowed accommodations for their health, such as the detainee with diabetes who was not given access to his medication?”
• “What disciplinary actions will be taken against the ICE officers who struck and choked detainees or otherwise used excessive force during the tarmac delay, given that all detainees were wearing restraints and could not pose a threat to the officers?”
The immigration enforcement agency says the abuse allegations are untrue and that no one was injured during the flight. Those being deported on the charter removal flights were restrained for the safety of those on board, the agency added, noting that 61 of the 92 detainees on the flight had criminal convictions, including homicide, rape, and aggravated assault.
To explain the botched flight, which baffled immigration lawyers, the agency said in a statement relief flight crew was “unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar.” It added that “various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.”
The detainees were scheduled for deportation on Wednesday but got a temporary reprieve Tuesday when a federal judge in Florida blocked their deportation to Somalia. U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles set a two-week emergency stay of removal and ordered the government to provide the detainees “with adequate medical treatment for any injuries they have sustained.”
Gayles extended the emergency stay on Thursday until Jan. 8 at 10 a.m.