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   Vol. 67/No. 13           April 21, 2003  
U.S. immigration frames up
Somali rights campaigner
ST. PAUL, Minnesota--Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, was released from jail April 3 after having his bail reduced from $10,000 to $6,500. He had been arrested by the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE) three days earlier for allegedly filing false immigration documents five years ago. The arrest took place on the heels of a Tennessee grand jury six-count indictment of Jamal on these charges last week.

Fifty supporters and family members attended Jamalís bail hearing. They had carried out a three-day campaign of phone calls to the BICE--the reorganized Immigration and Naturalization Service--office demanding his release.

An estimated 20,000 Somalis live in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, making it the largest concentration of Somalis in the United States.

Police harassment of Somalis increased in the last year and a half. Jamal said police were "just shooting them and killing them just like in Mogadishu and the civil war. This isnít what we expect."

Somalia has been without a central government since civil war broke out in 1991. Mogadishu is the countryís capital.

Jamal, 30, helped to lead a public fight against the killing of Abu Kassin Jeilani, a Somali man, by Minneapolis police last year. He called for the removal of Minneapolis police chief Robert Olson and helped organize a demonstration of 500 to demand justice.

As Washington began to push deportations of Somalis convicted of criminal or immigration violations, Jamal led a public campaign to stop the expulsions through forums, press conferences, and other activities. A federal judge in Seattle issued a nationwide ban on the deportations of Somalis in early 2003.

Jamal visited Seattle, and Lewiston, Maine, on a "National Tour against Hate" in January of this year. The mayor of Lewiston, where 1,100 Somali reside, had published an open letter asking that no more Somalis take up residency there.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center, Jamal helped organize a public campaign against the shutdown of Somali money transfer agencies by the U.S. Treasury Department. The government accused these agencies of financing "terrorism." Since then most of these agencies have been cleared of all charges by the government.

Richard Breitman, a local immigration lawyer, said Jamalís case appears to be an exception to standard legal practice. "Iíve just never seen it in 20 years, to criminally prosecute an asylum applicant," he stated.

For each of the six counts of making false statements when he applied for asylum, Jamal is liable for up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine. BICE is also seeking to deport him.  
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