Omar Shekhey
Omar Shekhey (right), executive director for the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston, with Uregi Hagimunye at Campus Plaza in Clarkston on Thursday, April 13, 2017. Shekhey said federal immigration authorities have arrested as many as 10 Somalis in Clarkston, Stone Mountain and in Gwinnett this week alone. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

By Jeremy Redmon

Federal immigration authorities have started arresting Somali nationals in parts of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties that have long been havens for newcomers, including in Clarkston, according to African advocacy groups.

The arrests came after Somalia’s U.S. ambassador recently told Voice of America his embassy has learned that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is planning to deport about 4,000 of his countrymen. ICE confirmed that, as of last week, there were 4,801 Somalis in the U.S. who have been ordered removed. The vast majority of them are not being detained.

Until about a year ago, according to ICE, U.S. authorities could not get travel documents to deport people to Somalia, which has endured persistent deprivation and violence. Since Oct. 1, ICE has deported 237 Somalis, according to federal figures through April 1.

As part of a nationwide operation in February, ICE detained more than 680 unauthorized immigrants from various nations, including 87 people in Georgia.

ICE’s latest arrests also follow President Donald Trump’s attempts to temporarily ban visitors from Somalia and five other Muslim-majority countries as well as refugees from around the world. Trump says his executive order – now on hold in federal courts amid constitutional challenges – is needed so his administration can boost its security screening process for visitors. An ICE spokesman emphasized his agency is not targeting people for deportation based on their religion.

Omar Shekhey, the executive director for the Somali American Community Center in Clarkston, said as many as 10 Somalis have been arrested in Clarkston, Stone Mountain and in Gwinnett this week alone. He worries they could be deported to Somalia, which is now in the grips of a deadly drought. Those who have been arrested have been in the U.S. for many years, Shekhey said.

“They don’t know anything about Somalia,” he said. “They don’t even speak the language, most of them. So it is going to be very difficult for them to go there.”

Glory Kilanko, director and CEO of Women Watch Afrika, said she is aware of eight Somali immigrants and refugees who have been arrested in ICE “raids” in Clarkston since last week.

“Everybody is feeling insecure,” she said. “People are beginning to hide and be afraid of law enforcement. They are saying they feel terrorized by ICE’s presence.”

ICE spokesman Bryan Cox pushed back against Kilanko’s use of the term “raids” and said no refugees have been arrested. Those who were arrested, Cox said, entered the U.S. without authorization and have been ordered deported by federal immigration judges.

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