Eight days have passed since Amer Othman Adi was detained by federal immigration agents upon arrival at a “routine” check-in, as mandated by the Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) office in Cleveland.
Adi’s arrest comes amid a swell in ICE detainments, in what appears a methodical targeting of well known community leaders and immigrant-rights activists.
Lina Adi, Amer’s second oldest daughter, said ICE is targeting as many people as possible, by any means possible.
“This isn’t [ICE] deporting immigrants; this is ICE bullying and tricking people,” Lina told me. “ICE is out of control.”
Echoing this sentiment, human rights attorney Noura Erakat told Mondoweiss that ICE, ultimately a conduit for the Trump administration, is conducting aggressive sweeps to appeal to a extremely xenophobic, white nationalist base.
“They’re scoring political points on purpose,” Erakat said of the choice to go after individuals more well known to their respective communities.
In the weeks prior, ICE arrested a number of immigrant rights activists in New York and Detroit. Like Adi, the detainees have also lived in the US for decades, are married to American citizens and undeniably pose no threat to public safety.
Erakat characterized the push to deport prominent activists and community leaders as a “full frontal attack” — a goading invitation from ICE to challenge the agency and administration.
“This isn’t about adhering to immigration laws,” Erakat said. “This is about picking a fight and drawing lines in the sand.”
An ICE spokesperson responded to Mondoweiss’ latest inquiry, stating only that there have been “no substantive changes in the case”. Multiple queries by Mondoweiss regarding the legal justification for keeping Adi detained remain unanswered.
While President Obama deported record numbers of immigrants, Adi’s detainment and the preceding circumstances bear out the Trump administration’s shift in immigration policy. As Mondoweiss reported, Adi was prepared to voluntarily leave the country for Jordan in compliance with ICE’s January 7 deadline. At the last minute, the agency notified David Leopold, Adi’s lawyer, that it would issue him a stay of deportation.
Then in a complete reversal, the same agency arrested Adi just ten days later, confounding his family, community, supporters and elected officials.
Since his arrest, ICE has shuffled Adi through three detention facilities, not once informing his family nor filing charges to justify his continued imprisonment. Today marks the ninth day of a hunger strike Adi says he will continue until released from custody.
Meanwhile, Amer’s family, lead by his four daughters and wife Fidea Musleh, have applied unrelenting pressure on the immigration agency, both engaging the press and elected officials via social media, letter writing with supporters among the Youngstown community and direct action. Beyond freeing their father — one of Youngstown, Ohio’s most well known business owners and a widely respected community leader — they seek to hold ICE accountable for its indiscriminate and opaque targeting of immigrants.
“We need to be heard; the world needs to see this,” Lina Adi told me. “[ICE] treats immigrants like they are not human and that is not okay!”
On January 16, the day Adi was to be released from the Geigua County Jail, they organized an emergency protest on the steps of city hall, drawing some forty supporters. They chanted “free Al now!” repeatedly, using Adi’s nickname.
Then late last week when Adi was transferred without warning to the for-profit Northeast Ohio Correctional Center — owned and operated by private prison company Core Civic just a few miles from downtown Youngstown. In response, his wife and daughters organized another protest directly outside the jail. More than two hundred supporters, including local and state representatives joined.
A vigil for Amer Adi’s release is scheduled for tonight at a church in Youngstown.
David Leopold, the former President of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and Adi’s attorney for the better part of two decades, said he’d never seen anything like it.
“It’s the height of arrogance” Leopold said, describing ICE’s decision to keep Adi detained without charge to Mondoweiss.
“Trump’s ethnic slurs are methodically being made into immigration policy across this country,” said Leopold, addressing protesters gathered outside the jail where Adi is still being held.
Ohio’s approximately 100,000 undocumented immigrant population is above average compared to most US states. Between 2010 and 2014, one percent of children born in the state as U.S. citizens were living with at least one undocumented family member — all of whom are likely at much greater risk of deportation than ever before.
Since day one of the Trump administration, the Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) branch of ICE has conducted nearly 150,000 “administrative arrests,” the highest rate of arrest in three years, according to government statistics.
This surge, in which Amer Adi is entangled, stems directly from an executive order issued by the Trump White House just days into his term.
The executive order so broadly redefined the conditions for arrest and deportation, that it grants immigration officers autonomy over whether someone is deported.
In Adi’s case, that person is Rebecca Adducci, the Field Office Director at ICE’s Detroit office. She is responsible for all enforcement and removal operations in Michigan and Ohio.
Lina and her sisters have petitioned, called and emailed Adducci to grant their father a stay, but to no avail.
“Rebecca Adducci is out of control,” Lina told me. Adducci and her staff “think they don’t have to answer to anyone.”
Her office has not returned Mondoweiss’ repeated calls or emails.
But based on her record, Adducci is unlikely to sympathize regardless. According to court documents, Officer Adducci was named in 107 lawsuits — filed on behalf of immigrants unfairly targeted — during the entirety of President Obama’s two terms. This turns out to be roughly fourteen such lawsuits annually.
During just one year of the Trump administration, the number of suits naming Adducci for various violations of legal and civil rights more than doubled. Litigation involving ICE is top among the agency’s many expenses and because the federal government does not reimburse litigation costs, the burden falls on taxpayers.
To justify its actions, ICE frequently notes that criminals comprised ninety-two percent of those arrested. But according to its own broad definition, ICE considers every single immigrant in the country with an uncertain legal status a “criminal”.
Never arrested, let alone found guilty of a crime, Amer Adi is just as much a criminal to ICE as someone with a long record of criminal convictions.
Don Bryant, President of the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network, has witnessed the change during the past year.
“They’re mostly breaking up families,” Bryant told Mondoweiss. [ICE] is “not going after criminals like they say.”
“There’s a resurgent effort to go after whatever names [the administration] has.”