Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) penned a letter to the Department of Homeland Security last week demanding that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement halt plans to deport 39 Somali nationals over concerns that they could contribute to the “spread of COVID.”
On Friday, the Department of Homeland Security responded noting that Omar was moving to protect at least 36 convicted criminals, whose crimes range from murder to material support for terrorism, to criminal sexual conduct, and even the alleged sexual assault of a minor.
The Washington Examiner reports that Omar “criticized Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Saturday over the agency’s potential deportation of illegal immigrants back to Somalia, citing coronavirus fears as a reason to halt the deportations” and demanded ICE put a halt to the planned exits.
“ICE is set to deport dozens of individuals from my district to Somalia, risking the spread of COVID,” Omar tweeted, indicating that she planned to formally confront the department over its agenda. “ICE’s actions will not only put these individuals at risk, but could have far-reaching consequences for Somalia. This week, I sent a letter to ICE to get answers.”
The tweet echoes concerns raised by members of the progressive “squad” and addressed in an earlier formal memo: that detainees who might have been infected with COVID on American soil could, by traveling abroad, ignite pandemics in their home countries, including Somalia, putting innocents at risk.
“For detainees who are immunocompromised or otherwise susceptible to the worst consequences of contracting COVID-19, holding them in detention may be literally a matter of life and death,” Omar and others said in a letter issued last month. “Deporting people who may have been exposed to coronavirus to either countries that have few or no cases or to countries with weak health care infrastructure is an unacceptable risk to take. Many countries, including the United States, are implementing strict border controls during this pandemic, and we should make no exception for ICE Air and deportations.”
On Friday, DHS responded, assuring Omar that, not only does the department take the novel coronavirus seriously, but that the 39 potential deportees she was protecting put Americans at risk if they remain in the country.
Today’s flight to Somalia included the removal of dangerous criminals. Read more ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/E2bWzcj708
— ICE (@ICEgov) September 19, 2020
“This week, ICE removed 39 Somali nationals, 36 of whom have criminal histories,” the letter from ICE reads. “These crimes include murder, rape, domestic violence, assault, sexual assault, crimes against children, drug trafficking, and conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization. These individuals have created countless victims and were serious threats to the public.”
The terrorism charge appears to be particularly concerning, per an ICE release from last week: “From approximately April 2008 to August 2012, [detainee Mahdi Mohammed Hashi] served as a member of al-Shabaab in Somalia. In 2012, he was extradited to the United States to face federal prosecution in the Eastern District of New York. Hashi pleaded guilty to providing material support to al-Shabaab, and on January 29, 2016, was sentenced to nine years imprisonment and issued a judicial order of removal. Upon his release from the Federal Bureau of Prisons in Leavenworth, Kansas, he entered ICE custody April 6, 2020.”
ICE letter also notes that all detainees have tested negative for the coronavirus and that ICE is cooperating with the government of Somalia to ensure that no returned detainee kicks of a COVID-19 pandemic.