Law School Students Play Vital Role in Lawsuit Blocking Deportation of 92 Somalis

Students in the Law School’s James H. Binger Center for New Americans and recent Law School graduates played key roles in a class action litigation effort that won a court order on Tuesday, December 19, temporarily blocking the deportation of 92 Somali men and women. The lawsuit was filed by the Binger Center, University of Miami Law School, and other legal services organizations in U.S. District Court in Miami.

The lawsuit cites inhumane conditions and egregious abuse of the 92 Somali men and women during ICE’s failed attempt to deport them a first time on December 7. During that aborted flight, ICE shackled the immigrants and forced them to stay seated for two days, including 23 hours when the plane sat on a runway in Senegal. The suit alleges ICE agents kicked, struck, choked, and dragged some detainees down the aisle of the plane and put others in straitjackets. The deportees also were denied access to a working bathroom.

When the December 7 flight was aborted, ICE returned the detainees to the United States, where they now are being held in detention centers in the South Florida area. ICE indicated it would put the detainees on a new flight to Somalia early on Wednesday, December 20, despite fears that the detainees would be targeted for persecution by the anti-American, anti-Western terrorist group Al Shabaab. Many of the men and women who were on the flight have had family members killed or threatened by Al Shabaab. U.S. asylum law forbids the removal of individuals to countries where they would face a likelihood of persecution or torture.

Law student Mary Georgevich (’18), working with Alexis Dutt (’18) and Tim Sanders (’18) and supervised by Binger Center clinical professor Ben Casper Sanchez (’97) and adjunct clinical professor Mirella Ceja-Orozco, spent several days during finals period creating a comprehensive database to track all 92 detainees and help coordinate the work of volunteer lawyers who converged at the ICE centers in Florida to screen detainees. The Minnesota team worked closely with two recent Binger Center graduates, Andrea Crumrine (’16) and Alex DeLeon (’16), both post-graduate fellows at Americans for Immigrant Justice in Miami, one of the organizations that joined the litigation. Crumrine and DeLeon interviewed Somali detainees and developed declarations used in the lawsuit.

Michele Garnet McKenzie (’96), deputy director of The Advocates for Human Rights, one of the Binger Center’s nonprofit partner organizations, gathered evidence on current conditions in Somalia for the law suit and helped coordinate the team’s responses to media inquiries. 

Another important figure in the effort was recent Law School graduate John Bruning (’17), now with Kim Hunter Associates in St. Paul. In late November, just weeks after his admission to the bar, Bruning and Hunter filed five separate federal lawsuits in Minnesota on behalf of individual Somali clients who were slated to be on the December 7 deportation flight. Bruning helped win court orders blocking ICE from putting three of his clients on that flight; his other two clients are in the Florida detention centers but protected by yesterday’s temporary restraining order. Bruning’s briefs from his five lawsuits now are being used by lawyers who will represent other Somali detainees in the next phase of the ongoing case.

“The Center’s students, alumni and partners have been key to every aspect of this remarkable litigation effort, both here and in Florida,” said Casper Sanchez. “Their passion to defend human dignity is inspiring, and the victory they helped win yesterday in collaboration with the University of Miami Law School and others demonstrates that our clinics are essential to winning the long-term struggle for immigrant justice in this country.”

Prior to their collaboration in this case, and in addition to being fellow students in Binger Center clinics, Georgevich, Dutt, Sanders, DeLeon and Bruning had participated in other volunteer projects sponsored by the Center, including a winter break trip to Dilley, Texas, where they provided legal assistance to women and children detained by ICE.

“Working on this Somali deportation case was an incredible opportunity to put in practice what I have learned in my work with the Binger Center clinics,” Georgevich said. “It was exhilarating to join forces with our former classmates and see them in action with so many other amazing lawyers on a case of this magnitude.”

The lawsuit filed on December 19 asks for the court to issue an order preventing the removal of the detainees to Somalia until the plaintiffs are provided with an opportunity to determine if they are entitled to protection in light of changed circumstances created by the December 7 flight and the dramatic deterioration of conditions since a massive terrorist bombing in Mogadishu on October 14, 2017, known as Somalia’s “9/11”; have received adequate treatment for injuries sustained on the December 7 flight; and that ICE officials have taken adequate measures to ensure that the detainees will not be abused on the next flight. A hearing is scheduled on the case for January 2 in Miami.

Casper Sanchez says approximately one-third of the group of 92 Somali detainees has connections to Minnesota. “There was no question we had to step into this case, and to stand with the families of these Minnesotans,” said Casper Sanchez.