By Crescenzo Vellucci
The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
VAN NUYS, CA – Although Omar Ameen has been languishing in, first, Sacramento County Jail and now an ICE detention center near Bakersfield, awaiting his freedom or deportation to Iraq to face certain death, his lawyers reluctantly postponed his hearing more than two months Thursday in a hearing before a federal immigration judge.
It wasn’t really their choice. The U.S. government sucker punched them.
It was the only gambit left after the government dumped about 500 pages of discovery on the defense Wednesday, the day before the hearing, although ICE had nearly three years to prepare for the hearing.
Now, the rescheduled “removability” hearing is set for July 27 and 28. Before that time Ameen’s lawyers expect to file motions, including one for bond. The government stated that the immigration judge did not have that authority and warned that Ameen is a “flight risk.”
Assistant Chief Immigration Judge Scott Laurent said the court, however “does find it has the authority” to conduct a bond hearing after recognizing Ameen has been “in custody” a long time and has a “right” to the bond hearing, adding “I wish we could do your hearing faster.”
“I’ve already expressed my concern. They (the government) had two years and nine months, and they just served (the 500 pages) to me yesterday. They’ve worked on this for the last year. I’m skeptical,” said a frustrated Siobhan Waldron, Ameen’s immigration attorney.
Waldron asked for an eight week extension, but the court balked. In the end, she got a bit more than 10 weeks after she promised the court she expected to have “voluminous” evidence to counter the government’s motions.
Ameen has been accused of being an ISIS terrorist who killed a member of the Rawah, Iraq police in 2014 that undertook anti-terrorism efforts for the Iraqi national security forces, according to court filings. The U.S. was processing him for extradition, and certain death after they snatched him from his Sacramento apartment.
But on April 21, in Sacramento Federal Court, in a surprising victory, found the defense “obliterated probable cause” and denied Omar’s extradition, calling the government’s case and the chain of events “simply not possible.”
“It is regrettable that the case has taken more than two years to litigate. Whatever procedural doubts precede it; the court is convinced that the decision not to certify Ameen’s extradition is correct. The evidence strongly supports that Ameen never left Turkey in June 2014, and the record before the court, taken in its entirety, does not establish probable cause,” ruled U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan.
But before Ameen could process out of Sacramento County Jail, the Sacramento community member and Iraqi refugee – accused of being an ISIS commander by the Trump Administration – was snatched by ICE and stuck in a federal detention facility near Bakersfield.
He went from extradition to Iraq and a likely death penalty, to becoming a prisoner again…and again facing death when extradited after deportation.
“I am truly stunned by what I am seeing in this case. I have never seen a situation like this in which the Government is so committed to ignoring anything that contradicts its flimsy case. DHS (Dept. of Health Services) in every way simply ignores that Omar was exonerated by the District Court in Sacramento,” said Assistant Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour Thursday after last Thursday’s hearing was continued
“And they try to pretend that he was never falsely accused of the murder by the very witnesses that they cite in their documents. It’s a real sleight of hand by the Government, to try to distract from Omar’s exoneration by simply pretending it didn’t happen.
“DHS clearly stated its intention to try to fix the massive factual problems in this case by calling FBI Special Agents and others as witnesses to tell a heavily abridged story. They certainly are not planning to call any of the supremely flawed and incredible Iraqi witnesses that story rests upon,” Barbour added.
Ameen’s immigration attorney Waldron outright denied eight charges, and told the court that Ameen “never interacted with or knew any members of El Qaeda in Iraq” or similar groups, as charged by the government, “never” committed or helped anyone commit any crime, “never” engaged in or conspired or incited sabotage, kidnapping, hijacking or other forms of terrorism, among the 11 counts Ameen in charged with, including that he lied to enter the U.S. in 2014.
Tuesday, Ameen spent his 1,000th day in custody Tuesday, away from friends and family.
“Today marks 1,000 days of Omar’s detention. 1,000 days of fear of being returned to torture and death. 1,000 days falsely accused. 1,000 days of a nightmare, falsely accused of terrorism, falsely accused of murder, of belonging to ISIS,” said Barbour Tuesday.
Speaking of the federal case that temporarily won Ameen the promise of freedom in April, Barbour said “we had obliterated the US. evidence. They’re case was based on false witnesses, and they counted on the court to believe them. But the judge didn’t believe them.”
“He’s still in custody…20 extra days. (Witnesses) lied, and threw everything in the book at him, and U.S. (government) gobbled it up. Either the U.S. believes (stories about Ameen), which is troubling or they don’t and are willing to keep going ahead with this. We’re asking for him to be immediately released and be with family after 1,000 days and fight his case from Sacramento,” Barbour added.
Immigration attorney Waldron said her client, according to the U.S., being held for “public safety (and) for national security concerns. (But) the chain of events (the government’s claims) is not plausible….ludicrous. We don’t know why they are doing this and demand answers,” she said.
Waldron noted again that Ameen has been “unjustly incarcerated for 1,000 days, nearly three years. In light of judge’s decision (to release him April 21), his detention is egregious. We are requesting ICE review Omar’s detention.”
She suggested that Biden Administration officials have said they are going to “limit ICE targets and detainees” but “ICE is doing as it pleases. There is no accountability. We must hold ICE accountable. He faces torture and death (if he is deported) We will aggressively fight for him,” she added.
Ameen, in a letter this week, said, “I love America and want to enjoy living here the rest of my life with my wife and children. It saddens me that I still have to fight for my freedom again. Please let me go home to my family now so that I can enjoy these last few days of Ramadan with them, break my fast with them, and enjoy my first Eid with my children in over two years.”
NorCal Resist organizer and attorney Autumn Gonzalez in Sacramento told THE VANGUARD that the “nonsensical” immigration system is a large part of the problem.
“Omar’s case highlights how nonsensical and prone to error our immigration system is. When families are separated, and parents taken from their children in this way, extreme financial and emotional stress is placed on immigrant families. Families that have already had to flee their homelands to find safety are being subjected to trauma by the country that was supposed to be a safe haven.
“We’re calling on the Biden administration to end immigration detention— in public or private facilities— and of course, to return Omar to his family immediately,” Gonzalez said.
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