Federal immigration authorities have started arresting Somali nationals in parts of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties that have long been havens for newcomers, including in Clarkston, according to African advocacy groups.
The arrests came after Somalia's U.S. ambassador recently told Voice of America his embassy has learned that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning to deport about 4,000 of his countrymen. ICE confirmed that, as of last week, there were 4,801 Somalis in the U.S. who have been ordered removed. The vast majority of them are not being detained.
Until about a year ago, according to ICE, U.S. authorities could not get travel documents to deport people to Somalia, which has endured persistent deprivation and violence. Since Oct. 1, ICE has deported 237 Somalis, according to federal figures through April 1.
As part of a nationwide operation in February, ICE detained more than 680 unauthorized immigrants from various nations, including 87 people in Georgia.
ICE’s latest arrests also follow President Donald Trump’s attempts to temporarily ban visitors from Somalia and five other Muslim-majority countries as well as refugees from around the world. Trump says his executive order – now on hold in federal courts amid constitutional challenges – is needed so his administration can boost its security screening process for visitors. An ICE spokesman emphasized his agency is not targeting people for deportation based on their religion.
Omar Shekhey, the executive director for the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston, said as many as 10 Somalis have been arrested in Clarkston, Stone Mountain and in Gwinnett this week alone. He worries they could be deported to Somalia, which is now in the grips of a deadly drought. Those who have been arrested have been in the U.S. for many years, Shekhey said.
“They don’t know anything about Somalia,” he said. “They don’t even speak the language, most of them. So it is going to be very difficult for them to go there.”
Glory Kilanko, director and CEO of Women Watch Afrika, said she is aware of eight Somali immigrants and refugees who have been arrested in ICE “raids” in Clarkston since last week.
“Everybody is feeling insecure,” she said. “People are beginning to hide and be afraid of law enforcement. They are saying they feel terrorized by ICE’s presence.”
ICE spokesman Bryan Cox pushed back against Kilanko’s use of the term “raids” and said no refugees have been arrested. Those who were arrested, Cox said, entered the U.S. without authorization and have been ordered deported by federal immigration judges.
“ICE makes arrests every day in the course of its ordinary, routine targeted enforcement operations,” he said. “There is no special operation taking place in Clarkston. As I’ve said repeatedly, ICE only conducts targeted immigration enforcement in compliance with federal law and agency policy. ICE does not conduct checkpoints nor sweeps or raids that target aliens indiscriminately. Any claims to the contrary are simply false.”
Among those arrested Tuesday in the Atlanta area, according to Cox, was Abdull Issak. A federal immigration judge in May of 1998 ordered him removed. Issak has numerous criminal convictions in DeKalb, Cox added. ICE took Ibrahim Ahmed Musa into custody Wednesday. He was ordered deported in June of 1998, Cox said.
The Trump administration recently issued a sweeping set of new guidelines that begin the process for building a new southwest border wall, hiring 15,000 immigration enforcement and Border Patrol officers and enlisting the help of local authorities in deporting people. Those directives vastly increase the pool of people prioritized for expulsion.
“ICE will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement,” Cox said. “All of those in violation of immigration laws may be subject to immigration arrest, detention, and if found removable by final order, removal from the United States.”
Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry said he is looking into ICE’s activities in his city, adding he is worried how the arrests could impact the relationships between immigrants and refugees and local police.
“Basically, you are pushing an entire group of people underground,” he said. “And that is definitely not going to make Clarkston safer.”