By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – Omar Ameen finally gets his day in court this Thursday in his fight to avoid being deported to Iraq, where he’ll face, according to his supporters, sure torture and death.
But Ameen already had his day in court last month, when a federal judge in Sacramento ruled he should be released from U.S. custody immediately.
Instead—wronged by the Trump Administration for years, according to a federal judge—the Biden Administration’s U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) immediately picked him up to be deported.
So, Ameen, supporters at a Sacramento news conference pointed out Tuesday, spent his 1,000th day in custody Tuesday, away from friends and family.
But this Thursday in U.S. Immigration Court in Van Nuys, Ameen hopes to finally get his—another—day in court.
“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 Assistant Federal Defender Rachelle Barbour.
Speaking of the federal case that temporarily won Ameen the promise of freedom in April, Barbour said “we had obliterated the US. evidence. Their 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.
Ameen’s immigration attorney Siobhan Waldron said her client, according to the U.S., is 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.
CAIR’s Basim Elkarra then read a statement Tuesday from Omar Ameen, who was transferred to the Mesa Verde ICE Detention Facility near Bakersfield from Sacramento County Jail April 21.
“It has been almost three years since I was woken up and taken away suddenly from the arms of my family. I didn’t even get to say goodbye to my wife and children, because I was certain that it was a mistake and that I’d be back the same day. I then spent two years and eight months at Sacramento jail on charges that I am completely innocent of.
“The judge found me innocent and ordered me to be immediately released, but the immigration police didn’t let me go home the day I won the case on April 21, 2021, and they are detaining me in a faraway location now. My family and I thought I’d get to go home that day. I am so grateful to the judge for listening to all the evidence and I thank God that in this country I had the right to defend myself and be found innocent.
“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.”
Ameen was accused of being the assassin 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.
But the federal court, in a surprising but deserved victory according to supporters, found April 21 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 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.
“Omar’s fight is now as political as it is legal,” charge supporters, who are conducting a massive and media campaign to free Ameen.
Sacramento City Council members Mai Vang, Katie Valenzuela, Sean Loloee, Eric Guerra and Jay Schenirer are on board, charging Ameen “was wrongly scapegoated by the Trump administration.”
Except that Joe Biden has been President now for about four months. And the ICE snatch a few weeks ago is now the responsibility of the Biden Administration.
And that’s just the point made by NorCal Resist organizer and attorney Autumn Gonzalez in Sacramento, who 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.
Assistant Federal Defender Barbour is just as direct in her comments to THE VANGUARD.
“The government needs to know that this case is a mockery of justice. Omar is absolutely innocent, and this case should never have been filed. Our judge found that we obliterated the Government’s evidence: ICE is proceeding on a stale, outdated, and false set of charges, and it is Kafkaesque that Omar is being forced to fight them again,” Barbour said.
“Omar was innocent on August 15, 2018, when he was arrested. He’s been innocent for the two years, eight months while he was on T-SEP (total separation, also known as solitary) status at the Sacramento County Main jail, in the company of serial killers, Aryan gang members, and rapists,” she said.
“He’s been innocent while we extensively investigated and documented that he was 600 miles away from the murder in Iraq and had nothing to do with it. And of course, the judge agreed and held that Omar was innocent on April 21, 2021, when he refused to allow the U.S. Government to extradite Omar to Iraq, where he would be tortured and killed,” Barbour added.
Barbour called the case—much as the federal judge suggested—a “travesty of justice” and emphasized that “every day that Omar spends in prison, away from his wife and four children, just compounds the tragedy for this family.”
She made particular note to argue that “Omar was falsely vilified by the U.S. Government and in media around the world as a terrorist and a murderer (in 2018). He was neither. He deserves to be free to be with his family. ICE should follow the law and grant him immediate release.”
“Omar is fighting for his right to stay with his wife and kids in Sacramento,” insist supporters, calling him a “caring, compassionate, and law-abiding human being.”
Supporters note that, in 2018, the “Trump administration accused him of belonging to ISIS and tried to extradite back to Iraq. It was politically motivated to demonize Muslim refugees…if he’s sent back to Iraq, he will almost certainly face a death sentence for a crime he did not commit.”
They added that it would be “unbearably cruel that ICE under the Biden administration would continue Trump’s ugly legacy against Muslim refugees. The US has done enough wrong to this man already.”
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