Somali-American family sues after border crossing detainment in 2015

Published 11:34 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

MINNEAPOLIS — A Somali-American family held at a U.S.-Canada border crossing for nearly 11 hours in 2015 after the father’s name appeared on a terror watch list is alleging its rights were violated during the long detainment, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.

The lawsuit filed by Abdisalam Wilwal, his wife Sagal Abdigani, and four children — then ages 5 to 14 — says the family was denied food for hours, Wilwal passed out after hours of having his hands cuffed behind his back, and the ordeal caused so much fear that at one point the 8-year-old girl told her mom, “maybe they’ll kill us after sunset.”

According to the lawsuit, which is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, the family members were stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials as they re-entered the United States after visiting Abdigani’s sister in Saskatchewan. The lawsuit says Wilwal’s name is on the government’s terror watch list for no reason.

Email newsletter signup

The suit alleges officials violated the family’s right to be free from unlawful search and seizure, and that those responsible for the terror watch list violated Wilwal’s right to due process.

“The government has refused to tell Mr. Wilwal why his name appeared on the watchlist, and it has not provided him with a meaningful opportunity to correct or challenge whatever error led to his placement on it,” the lawsuit says.

The family is now afraid to leave the country.

The lawsuit seeks an injunction that would bar authorities from arresting, searching or interrogating Wilwal and his family again because of his inclusion on the list. It also asks that authorities remove him from the list.

Named in the suit are the heads of several federal agencies as defendants, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.

The Department of Justice didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

According to the lawsuit, after Wilwal gave his family’s travel documents to border officers in Portal, North Dakota, three officers ordered him out of the minivan at gunpoint. He was separated from his family and handcuffed for nearly 11 hours — at one point passing out and requiring medical attention.

He was questioned about his religious practices and travels, the lawsuit says, and was denied access to a lawyer or interpreter.

The rest of the family was kept together. When Abdigani realized her 14-year-old stepson had his phone, she used it to call 911 for help. An officer confiscated the phone and police never came. Authorities searched the phone and took the boy to a separate area where he was given a pat-down. He was told to remove his clothes for a strip search, but he refused.

All of the family members are U.S. citizens.

“Our own government just shouldn’t be treating my family and me or anyone else this way,” Wilwal said in a statement. “It’s wrong.”