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Muslim detainee's family issues plea for help as ICE detention centres report coronavirus cases

Ibrahim Mohammad was scheduled to be released from US prison last month but is now languishing at ICE facility amid Covid-19
At least 20 ICE detainees are confirmed to have contracted coronavirus (MEE/Courtesy of Ibrahim Mohammad's family)
By in
Washington

Umaima Jafri says there's no conceivable way for her husband to protect himself from the coronavirus.

Ibrahim Mohammad has been languishing at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) processing centre in Aurora, Colorado, since February - awaiting deportation to India after serving two and a half years in prison.

The 39-year-old should have been deported after serving his term, but the coronavirus pandemic, along with India's decision to shutter its borders, meant Mohammad was transferred to an ICE processing centre where several inmates have reportedly fallen ill.

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Ibrahim Mohammad was set to be released from prison, but because of the pandemic he was transferred to an ICE processing centre (MEE/Courtesy of Ibrahim Mohammad's family)

There's no room inside Mohammad's cell to walk or practice social distancing, Jafri told Middle East Eye.

According to the family, Mohammad began exhibiting symptoms earlier this week, including a sore throat and body aches. He was reportedly put under a 23-hour lockdown with three other detainees.

One of his cellmates spent a night with a fever of 39C and was coughing throughout, Jafri said.

Doctors came in to check the vitals of all the detainees three times a day, but the family still fears for his well being.

"We don't know if this is just, you know, the flu going around," she said. "We don't know if this is just the common cold. Or whether it is worse."

'Abandoning prisoners is abandoning faith'

Mohammad was arrested by the FBI in 2015, after being accused of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists, specifically Anwar al-Awlaki, a preacher who later came out in support of al-Qaeda and was subsequently killed by a US drone strike in Yemen in 2011.

After waiting two years for trial, the government offered the structural engineer a plea deal - despite his repeated protests and denials of any wrongdoing.

In exchange for a guilty plea, Mohammad was told he would serve a significantly reduced sentence of two and a half years and then be deported.

Entrapment and terrorism cases have been a sticky issue for Muslim communities in America, as many in the community tend to steer clear of Muslims accused of terrorism in fear that they might also be accused of crimes.

'Post 9/11, Muslims are too afraid to champion the causes of American Muslims that have been wrongfully accused of supporting terror'

- Omar Suleiman, founder of Yaqeen Institute

"Post 9/11, Muslims are too afraid to champion the causes of American Muslims that have been wrongfully accused of supporting terror," Imam Omar Suleiman, the founder of the Yaqeen Institute in Texas, told MEE.

"The fear is that by calling into question the methods of extraction and judgment of those individuals, you risk associating yourself with the heinous acts of terror they've been accused of supporting," he said.

"So somehow, supporting civil liberties gets equated with supporting terrorism."

Jafri said that while the Muslim community in Ohio, where their family is based, has been supportive of her husband's cause and attended all of his hearings - his case needed greater attention.

Suleiman - who has been an advocate for prisoners' rights - agreed, saying it was crucial during the coronavirus pandemic that the Muslim community rallied to help those languishing in detention facilities.

"To demand basic rights for prisoners who have been framed in an Islamophobic climate as being 'Islamic extremists' is to demand dignity and fairness for us all," he said.

"Abandonment of these prisoners that are rotting away in solitary confinement is abandonment of our faith and principles."

ICE's indifference to Covid-19

Across the US, local authorities have been releasing prisoners from jail in order to protect them from contracting the coronavirus. 

ICE has been under pressure to do the same.

So far, ICE has said at least 20 detainees have contracted the coronavirus.

The agency, which is detaining about 35,000 immigrants in more than 200 facilities, has resisted introducing a nationwide policy. 

"Due to the unprecedented nature of novel coronavirus 2019 (Covid-19), US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is reviewing cases of individuals in detention who may be vulnerable to the virus," an agency official told congressional staffers earlier this week.

Still, Jafri said it was horrifying to hear of indifference inside the facility while the world outside is quarantining and social distancing during the pandemic.

'This coronavirus, it was the last thing anybody expected to happen to the world right now'

- Umaima Jafri

In Mohammad's facility in Colorado, there had been reports of Covid-19 cases among the guards.

There have been protests and riots as well, with detainees demanding that they be released amid fears of contracting the virus.

"I told him [Mohammad]: 'Don't get involved in anything and stay away from anybody if you can so you don't get sick'," Jafri said.

"But that's impossible in such close quarters in this facility."

Jafri is working with the family's immigration attorney to secure Mohammad's release and to grant him home arrest during this time but in his specific case, being guilty of terrorism charges, it may be difficult.

She also made calls to organisations in Colorado, who are working to get immunocompromised detainees released amid the pandemic.

"This coronavirus, it was the last thing anybody expected to happen to the world right now," Jafri said.

"My panic just hits the roof. What am I supposed to do at this point?"

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This was the last photo Mohammad and his family took together in 2015 (MEE/Courtesy of Ibrahim Mohammad's family)