Refugee's arrest at Portland courthouse draws more criticism

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PORTLAND — The April 6 courthouse arrest of a Somali immigrant by federal agents continued to ripple this week, when the man said he is a legal resident of the U.S.

As of Tuesday, Abdi Farah Ali, 28, of 53 Haskell St., Westbrook, remained in the Cumberland County Jail in Portland.

His treatment and the arrests of others by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents led 179 Maine attorneys to sign a letter of protest to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and U.S. Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

“ICE arrests at courthouses undermine the fundamental constitutional guarantee that all people have the right to seek redress from our court system. … No one should be afraid to seek justice because of his or her immigration status,” said the letter, which came from the ACLU of Maine.

Ali was detained by agents following his appearance in the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Docket in Portland, where he pleaded not guilty to a charge of operating under the influence.

Arrest logs from the Cumberland County Jail and Portland Police Department show Ali was arrested Feb. 28 on Forest Avenue.

“The individual has an extensive criminal history that includes numerous misdemeanor convictions, including two convictions for assault. The individual is in ICE custody, in accordance with agency protocols pending removal proceedings,” ICE spokesman Alvin Phillips said April 7.

This week, Ali told the Bangor Daily News he has been living in America since he was 7 years old and is a legal resident after arriving as a refugee.

“If I go back to my country, they’re going to pretty much kill me. I don’t know (anything) about my country. I’m American. I consider myself American,” Ali told the newspaper.

A Jan. 25 executive order signed by President Donald Trump is at the root of efforts to deport Ali, according to the BDN. 

The order, entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” instructs ICE to detain and deport immigrants who are here illegally or have criminal convictions. Ali has been convicted of several misdemeanor offenses.

“Removing criminal aliens from our communities produces a higher level of public safety for everyone,” a Feb. 21 DHS press release on implementing the executive order said.

Following Ali’s detainment, Cumberland County Sheriff Kevin Joyce and city Police Chief Michael Sauschuck distanced their departments from the federal action.

“The Cumberland County Sheriff’s Office was not involved in taking Mr. Ali into custody yesterday,” Joyce said in an April 6 press release. “Mr. Ali was transported to the Cumberland County Jail where we traditionally hold inmates for local and federal law enforcement agencies…our deputies do not enforce immigration laws.”

In a April 7 press release, Sauschuck said Ali’s federal arrest did not reflect his department’s goals, and was done without his department’s knowledge.

“We work very hard to build trust between the Police Department and all immigrant communities,” Sauschuck said. “It is imperative that all the residents of our city are able to seek assistance from the police, and also provide us with the help we need to solve crimes and continue to make Portland a safe city. We know that cannot truly happen if they are in fear of the police.”

Attorney Tina Heather Nadeau was with Ali when he was arrested April 6. She was not his court-appointed attorney, since he was not facing a felony charge, but offered to discuss the details of his case following his arraignment in case he wanted legal representation.

Nadeau said an ICE agent interrupted their discussion in a private room outside the courtroom. When she asked him to leave, he said they would be waiting for Ali when the conference was done.

“As I opened the door to let him out, three officers grabbed him, pushed him against the wall and handcuffed him,” Nadeau said, adding she became upset because at least one courthouse security officer applauded the ICE agents. 

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.


Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.