San Francisco Chronicle

ICE seeks to deport Iraqi despite ruling of innocence

- By Bob Egelko

After 2½ years behind bars, refugee Omar Ameen was ordered released to his Sacramento home last month by a federal magistrate, who said he was innocent of the terrorist murder of a police officer in his native Iraq.

But Ameen was instead handed over to immigratio­n officials, who have locked him up and are seeking to deport him on the same charges to a country where, his lawyers say, he would be tortured and executed.

In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Immigratio­n and Customs Enforcemen­t said Ameen, 47, is being held for possible deportatio­n because he is “an unlawfully present Iraqi national” who made “misreprese­ntations on applicatio­ns for admission” to the United States.

But Ameen’s lawyers said those alleged “misreprese­ntations” were verified to be true by U.S. Magistrate Judge Edmund Brennan in his April 21 ruling: that he could not have been the Islam

ic State gunman who killed an Iraqi policeman in June 2014 because the evidence showed he was 600 miles away in Turkey, where he had fled from Iraq more than two years earlier.

“Mr. Ameen is a lawful refugee in the United States who was falsely alleged to be an ISIS commander and murderer by the very country from which he fled,’’ said Rachelle Barbour, a deputy federal public defender who represente­d him in the extraditio­n proceeding­s before Brennan.

“Now, apparently, the government wants another try . ... Tax dollars are being wasted, and Mr. Ameen’s life is being destroyed, in service of a lie that has been completely adjudicate­d and roundly rejected.”

The agency should release Ameen immediatel­y and drop its case against him, said Siobhan Waldron, an attorney with the nonprofit Immigrant Legal Defense, who represents him in the deportatio­n case.

“If ICE continues to prosecute him, Mr. Ameen will continue to fight to save his life,” she said.

Ameen arrived in the United States in November 2014 after being granted refugee status as a Sunni Muslim who faced persecutio­n and terrorist threats if he returned to Iraq. But in August 2018 the Justice Department, at the request of Iraq’s government, jailed him and began extraditio­n proceeding­s, which would have been the firstever to send a U.S. resident to Iraq.

Ameen’s former hometown of Rawah fell to ISIS fighters in June 2014. The next day, police officer Abdulhafiz Jasim, who had taken part in previous antiterror­ism campaigns, was targeted in his home by ISIS gunmen, came outside and was shot to death. A witness who was in Jasim’s home told the FBI, and an Iraqi court, that Ameen was the assassin. Iraq’s government said a second witness also identified Ameen.

But Brennan said in his ruling that Ameen had provided abundant evidence that he had never left Turkey, where he lived with his family after fleeing Iraq.

His account was backed by numerous witnesses, by polygraph tests, and by his signature on weekly refugee logbooks several days before and after the killing, Brennan said. And on the day of the killing, the magistrate said, cell phone towers in his home town of Mersin, Turkey, recorded two calls from a phone that, according to all available evidence, had never been used by anyone but Ameen.

In addition, Brennan said, Ameen would have had to travel through wartorn Syria, where he would have risked “being captured or killed by Syrian forces,” to reach Iraq.

“Ameen was in Turkey, not Iraq, the day of the murder,” the magistrate concluded.

His ruling was not mentioned in the statement ICE issued Wednesday. Barbour, who represente­d Ameen in Brennan’s court, said the ruling should be conclusive because the government must meet a higher standard of proof in a deportatio­n case in immigratio­n courts, which are an arm of the Justice Department.

In the extraditio­n case, Barbour said, “the U.S. government was unable to provide a single shred of independen­t evidence to corroborat­e these lying witnesses.”

 ?? U.S. District Court 2014 ?? Omar Ameen, formerly of Iraq, as he appeared in 2014 shortly after moving to the United States.
U.S. District Court 2014 Omar Ameen, formerly of Iraq, as he appeared in 2014 shortly after moving to the United States.

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