PORTLAND, Maine — The Somali man arrested by immigration agents in a Portland courthouse in April was granted bail by a federal immigration judge Thursday.
Abdi Ali, who became a legal permanent resident soon after coming to Maine as a refugee in 1996, will be allowed to go home to his adopted family, even as the court proceedings continue to determine whether he should be deported for a 4-year-old drug possession conviction.
Following a bail hearing in Boston, Judge Mario Sturla ruled Ali, 28, can be released on a $9,000 bond, though he will likely remain imprisoned in a New Hampshire jail for some time as his fiancee works to raise the required sum.
“I’m happy, man, and I’m blessed,” said Ali during a brief phone call from jail. “They’ve given me a second chance and I appreciate the court system for that.”
This relief was echoed by his fiancee, Melissa Hair, who said that bail was a bit of unexpected mercy and an opportunity for them to fight to keep their lives together. The couple’s top priority once Ali is out is for him to get back to work to fund his legal defense and help support their family, Hair said.
Ali has a long history of criminal misdemeanors, including many petty crimes and two assaults from 2010. In the past few years, however, he’d kept out of legal trouble and was working at a seafood processing plant before Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents arrested him in the Cumberland County Superior Court. He was in court to plead not guilty to a drunken driving charge.
His arrest is believed to be the first time ICE agents have entered a Maine courthouse to detain someone and appeared to mark the arrival in Maine of the more aggressive immigration enforcement policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. Soon after Ali was arrested, ICE also detained a Naples man, who was deported to Guatemala in May after decades of living and working in the U.S. illegally.
The two cases are part of a spike in the number of immigration arrests in New England and nationally. During the early weeks of the Trump administration ICE arrests in New England rose 85 percent, compared with the same time period in 2016, although they remain lower than during the peak of former President Barack Obama’s deportation push in 2014.
When asked in April why ICE is seeking to deport Ali for a 4-year-old misdemeanor for which he’s already served a jail sentence, a spokesman said that under the Trump administration’s policies the agency “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement.”
Ali is desperate to avoid deportation. Shortly after his arrest, he told the Bangor Daily News that does not remember his life as a young child in Somalia and fears that being sent back to the war and famine-ravaged country would amount to a death sentence.
“If I go back to my country, they’re going to pretty much kill me,” Ali said at the time. “I don’t know [anything] about my country. I’m American. I consider myself American.”
The danger of Somalia, where Ali’s father was killed in a civil war, will be an aspect of his legal defense, according to Patrick Long, a Boston-based lawyer representing him.
Ali has filed for cancellation of his deportation, which Long said is a discretionary exemption under which a judge can weigh someone’s deportable crimes against their family and community ties and good deeds. He also is applying for asylum and exemption from deportation under the U.S. Convention Against Torture, Long said.
Before Ali can get to work to pay for this legal defense, Hair needs $9,000 to bail out of the Strafford County Jail in New Hampshire. It’s a process made more difficult, she said, by the fact that many bail bondsmen will not put up money in immigration cases because they see immigrants as a greater flight risk.
Hair said she’s has gathered about $7,000 with the help of her family. She’s trying to raise the remainder and money for Ali’s ongoing legal fees on GoFundMe.com and plans have a yard sale Friday.
Hair, who has a 6-year-old son and three older children, said that if she needs to she’ll sell her minivan to post the bond. It would be a hardship, she said, but worth it to see Ali home.
“It’s a battle, but I feel like for now I can smile,” she said.