By Crescenzo Vellucci
Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief
SACRAMENTO, CA – The strange case of Iraqi refugee Omar Ameen and the U.S. government’s insistence of extraditing him – from Trump to Biden – continues. And as the saying goes, is becoming “curiouser and curiouser.”
Ahead of Ameen’s much-delayed federal immigration hearing next Tuesday, the Sacramento / Central California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SV/CC) filed a motion Thursday suggesting there is a hidden piece of evidence in the case of the Sacramento area resident the U.S. government is, in fact, hiding.
CAIR notes Ameen was arrested in August of 2018 by ICE based on a “sealed” exhibit. But U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan, a former prosecutor, relied on the same document to prevent Ameen’s extradition to the Iraq for the alleged murder of an Iraqi police officer earlier this year.
CAIR argues that, according to Judge Brennan, “the government’s case was ‘dubious;’ its witnesses were ‘unreliable;’ and the narrative presented made ‘little sense.’ In other words, Judge Brennan found that there was no plausible way that Omar Ameen could have committed the murder for which he stood accused. Despite that ruling, Ameen was not released and was instead taken into ICE custody.”
“This sealed exhibit was central to the judge’s order refusing to extradite Omar Ameen. To fully understand that Order, and the actions of the Government in this case, we are asking the Court to unseal that exhibit,” said Layli Shirani, Senior Staff Attorney for Civil Rights at CAIR-SV/CC.
“This case, which was specifically cited by the Trump Administration in their effort to gut the Refugee Program, represents just one prong in that Administration’s overtly Islamophobic agenda. The Muslim Ban was another. Given the Biden Administration has chosen to allow deportation proceedings against Omar to continue despite his exoneration, we must remain vigilant,” added Shirani.
“We have a strong interest in knowing what evidence the government relied upon in disrupting the lives of Omar and his family. Being accepted into the United States as a refugee is hard – the vetting process is extensive and takes a long time. It’s also important to note that this goes beyond Omar Ameen and the considerable harm that has been done – and is still being done – to him and his family,” he noted.
Before his arrest in 2018, Ameen had been languishing in Sacramento County Jail. He’s 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 in May before a federal immigration judge. It’s now been four months.
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 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.
“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,” she added.
“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 said.
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.
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.”
“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…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.
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.
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.