ACLU appeals detention of Rochester Iraqi refugee

September 13, 2018

Farass Adnan Ali

An Iraqi refugee who settled in Rochester has been detained by immigration officials for more than 16 months.

Federal immigration officials say Farass Adnan Ali, 34, concealed that he had been a member of Saddam Hussein’s elite Republican Guard. An unsealed federal search warrant affidavit does not outline evidence for that conclusion. However, the warrant does allege Ali lied to investigators about his social media usage and details what federal investigators found on Ali’s phone, social media posts and messaging apps.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal court Friday challenging the 16-month detention leading up to deportation proceedings. Ali was held in solitary confinement for seven months, said ACLU attorney Ian Bratlie.

The petition notes other cases in which Minnesota judges have released detainees when their pre-deportation holding period has gone beyond legitimate reason to hold a person.

The filing also argues Ali’s removal to Iraq is not reasonably foreseeable since he’s contesting the deportation. It also notes if he were ordered deported, he is unlikely to be able to return to his home country due to the high number of Iraqi deportees verse the low number of individuals Iraq actually takes back. The petition also notes Ali has no criminal convictions on his record since coming to the U.S. in 2014.

A similar petition was filed by Ali in January but was dismissed in March after attorneys representing him failed to file a response to the court in that case.

Ali was taken into custody May 10, 2017, after FBI began investigating his social media activity. The warrant details contacts he had earlier that year via messaging app Viber with a phone number associated with Ali Sabeh Abed, another Iraqi who was seeking refugee status. Abed was listed in Defense Department documents published more than 12 years ago as a member of an Iraqi insurgent cell.

FBI officials interviewed Ali earlier that spring. At that time, he declined to allow his phone to be searched. On the day Ali as arrested, agents reviewed photos that were posted publicly on Ali’s Facebook profile.

Investigators also found the images of Ali in Turkey including an image of a caravan of ISIS fighters driving through the Libyan city of Sirte.

Court records also note an an image of Ali in at what appears to be a gun store that sells hunting rifles. Records show Ali had texted that image of himself at the gun store to an unidentified person in April 2014 — three months after Ali arrived in the U.S. Ali became a lawful permanent resident in July 2015.

A message in Arabic attached to the photo read, “See the weapons.”

Bratlie said the photos are out of context and don’t demonstrate a threat.

“They’re uncompelling as far as dangerousness,” said Bratlie. “The photos I’ve seen don’t rise to the level of danger.”

Under federal immigration court procedures, the burden of proof to set bond lies on the defense. Federal Judge Ryan Wood denied allowing Ali release on bond because defense had failed to demonstrate Ali isn’t a danger. If the writ of habeas corpus is granted, the burden would fall on the state to demonstrate Ali is a danger in a bond hearing.

Bratlie said the ideal outcome would be if presiding Minnesota Federal Senior Judge David S. Doty orders Ali to be released.

A response to the petition has not yet been filed.

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