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Lawful Sudanese Immigrant Receives $60,000 Settlement for Five Days Unlawful ICE Detention

by Lonnie Burton

On November 2, 2004, U.S. District Judge Charles K. Wolff of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa, signed an order approving the settlement in, and dismissing, a case of an Iowa man who was unlawfully held on an immigration detainer for five days. The parties agreed to a $60,000 payment to dismiss the lawsuit, which also included a claim under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA.

El Rayah Khalifa was granted political asylum in the United States in 1994, after fleeing his home country of Sudan. Khalifa was a lawyer and judge in Sudan, but later sought asylum in the U.S. after he suffered persecution by the fundamentalist Islamic government of Sudan due to his membership in the opposing political party and "his advocacy of a non-violent, humanistic interpretation of Islamic religion and thought." Khalifa became a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. on September 16, 1998, and operated a store in Coralville, Iowa.

In early October 2001, shortly after the September 11th terrorist attacks, the FBI received an anonymous complaint of "suspicious activity" at Khalifa's store. When agents visited the store to question him, Khalifa cooperated fully. However, due to an error on his original asylum application, Khalifa’s date of birth did not match the one he gave the FBI agents. In a subsequent interview, Khalifa told FBI agents that his Social Security number wasvalid and that INS (now ICE) had his correct date of birth.

The next day Khalifa was handcuffed and taken to the Linn County Jail by FBI and INS agents. He was never shown a warrant for his arrest nor any document authorizing his detention, according to the complaint. Khalifa was never interviewed by the FBI or INS while in the jail, never brought before a judge, and was never given an explanation for his arrest and detention. Khalifa was released from jail five days later, on October 22, after "the intervention of an attorney," the lawsuit said.

"The warrantless detention, handcuffing, and incarceration of Plaintiff were undertaken without reasonable suspicion or probable cause," the complaint read, all in violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

The complaint further alleged that Khalifa's unlawful detention was based on his race and ethnicity, a possible reference to the hysteria following the 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center.

The complaint alleged causes of actions against INS and FBI agents for false arrest, assault, battery, and false imprisonment. Separately, the lawsuit sought damages for FOIA violations, after major portions of Khalifa’s INS file were redacted prior to disclosure under that act.

It is unclear from the documents provided whether the $60,000 settlement was inclusive of all costs and attorney's fees, or if the parties decided that separately. Khalifa was represented in the case by attorney Bruce Nestor of Minneapolis. See: Khalifa v. United States, U.S.D.C (S.D. Iowa 2004), Case No. 3:03-cv-80073.

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Related legal case

Khalifa v. United States