Media Contact

Communications Director Lynette Kalsnes,, 612-270-8531

March 26, 2020

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota Thursday sued the federal government for unlawfully holding an American citizen in ICE custody for 11 months, even though he repeatedly told them he was a citizen.

Ali Abdalla came to the U.S. as a Somali refugee. In 2003, when his father became a U.S. citizen, citizenship was extended to Ali, who was a teen at the time.

ICE arrested Ali in July 2017, telling him they were deporting him to Somalia. Ali repeatedly told ICE he was a citizen, but they did not investigate, violating their own policies. ICE unlawfully held Ali for 11 months in three different jails.

“I was scared,” Ali said. “My freedom was taken from me. I don’t like to remember that part of my life. I was shocked that my government would do this. I felt like I was nobody. They took me away from my family, everything I know. I might not see my kids ever again, my mom, my dad. It was horrible.”

In January of 2018, seven months into Ali’s detention, Immigration Judge Ryan Wood ruled that Ali was indeed a citizen and terminated removal proceedings. ICE still refused to release Ali, appealed Judge Wood’s decision, and held Ali for five more months. Ali didn’t get out until his attorney won a writ of habeas corpus ordering his release. 

Ali had suffered a traumatic brain injury at an old job, and his unlawful arrest and detention kicked up TBI-related mental health issues at Nobles County Jail, where they provided anxiety medication. Yet when ICE transferred him to Sherburne County Jail, workers refused to let him take that medication.

“Every single step of Ali Abdalla’s journey presented an opportunity for ICE to do the right thing and release an American citizen who they shouldn’t have been holding in the first place,” said ACLU-MN staff attorney Ian Bratlie. “Instead, ICE’s shocking and callous refusal to release an American citizen or even investigate, in violation of their own policies, is a gross miscarriage of justice that shocks the conscience and violates our Constitution.”

“Mr. Abdalla’s deprivation of liberty and emotional distress are the direct and foreseeable consequence of official policies, patterns, practices, and customs that manifest not only intentional discrimination based on race, ethnicity, and religion as well as disregard of basic principles of due process, but also a reckless disregard for human life and liberty,” the lawsuit said.

The ACLU-MN filed Ali Abdalla v. United States et al. in U.S. District Court in Minnesota Thursday. The lawsuit names U.S. Attorney General William Barr, the heads of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, various ICE officials, and Sherburne County Sheriff Joel Brott. The lawsuit claims include false arrest, false imprisonment, and deprivation of liberty without due process in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.

“It’s good to make the government aware they can’t do this,” Ali said, explaining why he is suing. “They’ll keep doing it if I don’t. They’ll do it to the next guy. The government should take precautions, take time to figure this out.”

The ACLU of Minnesota is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting and preserving the civil liberties of all Minnesotans through litigation, lobbying and organizing.