MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — On Thursday, the ACLU of Minnesota sued the federal government for unlawfully holding an American citizen in ICE custody for a total of 11 months.

Ali Abdalla, of Coon Rapids, was arrested by ICE on July 14, 2017, even though he repeatedly told the agent he was a citizen. He came to the United States as a Somali refugee. When his father was naturalized in 2003, Abdalla also gained citizenship because he was under the age of 18.

When he was arrested by the unknown ICE officer, he was told he would be deported to Somalia. When he told the agent he was a citizen, the agent did nothing to investigate the claim, violating ICE’s policies. Abdalla was then handcuffed and taken to Freeborn County Jail.

He stayed in prison for the next 11 months, moving back and forth between Freeborn and Nobles County jail. He was finally released in May of 2018.

“I was scared,” Abdalla said. “My freedom was taken from me. I don’t like to remember that part of my life. I was shocked that my government would do this. I felt like I was nobody. They took me away from my family, everything I know. I might not see my kids ever again, my mom, my dad. It was horrible.”

In January of 2018, Immigration Judge Ryan Wood ruled that Abdalla was indeed a United States citizen, but ICE still refused to release Abdalla. Instead they appealed Wood’s decision and held him for an additional five months. Abdalla was not able to leave prison until his attorney won a writ of habeas corpus, ordering his release.

Abdalla had suffered a traumatic brain injury at a previous job. During his stay at Nobles County Jail, he was diagnosed with anxiety and given medication. However, when ICE transferred him to Sherburne County Jail, workers refused to give him that medication.

“Every single step of Ali Abdalla’s journey presented an opportunity for ICE to do the right thing and release an American citizen who they shouln’t have been holding in the first place,” said Ian Bratlie, ACLU-MN staff attorney. “Instead, ICE’s shocking and callous refusal to release an American citizen or even investigate, in violation of their own policies, in a gross miscarriage of justice that shocks the conscience and violates our Constitution.”

The lawsuit, Ali Abdalla v. United States et al. names U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the heads of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, various ICE officials, and Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott. The lawsuit claims include false arrest, false imprisonment, and deprivation of liberty without due process in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.

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