A woman who lied to a grand jury probing local ties to the terror group al-Shabaab can be deported to Somalia even if a federal judge shows lenience when he sentences her in April, the government contends.
Prosecutors argue in a legal memo filed Wednesday that Saynab Abdirashid Hussein’s crime of perjury involved terrorism, and that made her eligible for deportation — even if Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis sentenced her to less than a year in prison.
Normally, any “aggravated” crime involving more than a year of prison can lead to deportation of a legal permanent resident, such as Hussein.
Midway through Hussein’s scheduled sentencing last month, Davis called a halt to the proceedings. He ordered prosecutors and her lawyers to submit briefs on whether her conviction and sentence could lead to deportation.
Hussein, 24, was born in Somalia. But her family left the war-torn country when she was 1 year old and she grew up in Minneapolis. There, at Roosevelt High School, she knew some of the men who later returned to Somalia to fight for al-Shabaab.
Since then, she has gotten married, had a son and now lives in Nashville, Tenn., where she is a nursing student at Nashville State Community College. In a pre-sentencing memorandum for Davis, defense attorney John Lundquist said deporting her to a country she left as an infant “is a punishment that would far outweigh the crime committed here.”
But in their new legal memo, Assistant U.S. Attorneys LeeAnn Bell and Charles Kovats Jr. said it wasn’t appropriate to give her a shorter sentence solely because a longer sentence might lead to deportation.
Such a consideration was only appropriate “in atypical or extraordinary circumstances,” they argued, and Hussein’s case was neither.
“To put it bluntly, the defendant faces no consequence more extraordinary than a cooperating Mexican-citizen drug trafficker with a family in the United States returning to a cartel-controlled Mexico,” the prosecutors wrote. “The fact that she has a family in the United States and is unfamiliar with her home country makes her no different from hundreds of defendants, men and women, who are separated from their children and families as a result of their own criminal activities.”
Earlier, Bell and Kovats had argued that Hussein should be sentenced to at least two years in prison.
Hussein was charged in August with lying to a grand jury investigating the exodus of Somali men from the Twin Cities to Africa. Investigators feared al-Shabaab was recruiting them to join the terror group’s fight against the nascent Somali government.
The woman was 19 when she testified before the panel in June 2009, and she denied knowing any of the 20 or so men who left. She also said she didn’t know anything about attempts to raise money for them. Both were lies; she had raised $1,300 for one of the men who went to Somalia.
Hussein was the 19th person — and only female — charged in the FBI’s “Operation Rhino,” the investigation into the alleged recruitment by al-Shabaab.
Of the 18 men, nine have been convicted and sentenced, seven are fugitives and two are believed to have died in Somalia.
When Lundquist filed his original sentencing memorandum for the judge, he argued that sentencing guidelines called for 10 to 16 months’ incarceration, and said Davis should give her less time than that because she had eventually cooperated with the government investigation.
Bell and Kovats wrote that an immigration judge can deem an alien “removable” if there is a conviction for an aggravated felony or if there are “security and other related grounds,” including involvement in terrorist activity.
The prosecutors said that even if Davis kept the sentence to less than a year, an immigration judge could still list Hussein as removable because her crime involved terrorism.
What that would mean in real terms for Hussein is uncertain. Bell and Kovats noted in their memo that since October, local Department of Homeland Security officials haven’t deported anyone to Somalia.
“Furthermore, DHS has released from ‘mandatory immigration custody’ the aliens who were to be removed to Somalia because DHS determined that ‘there is no significant likelihood of removal in the reasonably foreseeable future,’ ” they wrote.