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Utah Muslim leader once stranded in Kenya expected to arrive home today

First Published      Last Updated Jun 19 2017 08:25 am


Travel » After being barred from returning from Kenya, he is expected to be in Salt Lake City on Sunday.

A Utah Muslim leader who had been barred from boarding a return flight from Kenya for several days was finally allowed to return to the United States on Saturday.

But then Yussuf Awadir Abdi was unexpectedly searched at Los Angeles International Airport on Saturday evening, and officials apparently refused to promptly give him his boarding pass, his attorneys said. The delay — which occurred after Abdi had already passed through customs — caused him to miss his connecting flight to Salt Lake City.

Gadeir Abbas, a senior attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called the actions in Los Angeles a "last twist of the knife that the government is inflicting on a U.S. citizen." Abdi is the imam of Salt Lake City's Madina Masjid Islamic Center.




Abdi now is expected to arrive in Salt Lake City at 2 p.m. Sunday. He plans to hold a news conference upon landing to discuss the ordeal, which started Wednesday at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Kenya. Abbas said dozens showed up at Salt Lake City International Airport to welcome Abdi on Saturday evening, thinking he would be there.

CAIR and the Refugee Justice League of Utah argued in a joint complaint filed Friday that there is "good evidence" Abdi was put on the federal government's no-fly list after he left the U.S. and was blocked from re-entering. He has no criminal record, though his travel has been monitored and restricted in the past.

Abdi had recently traveled to Kenya to pick up his wife and five children. His family was allowed on the plane Wednesday, but Abdi was pulled aside by officials at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

Qatar Airlines employees told him he couldn't board because the U.S. wouldn't accept him, said attorney Jim McConkie, co-founder of the justice league.

Abdi has been an American citizen since 2010, living in Utah for the past six years. Abdi's wife and two of his children have visas; the other three kids are legal immigrants.

Friday's petition called the situation "an injustice of historic proportions" and a violation of constitutional rights.

President Donald Trump's recent immigration and refugee executive orders sought to temporarily limit travel to the United States and fulfill his campaign promise of a "Muslim ban," but have been blocked by the courts. It's unclear why Kenyan officials kept Abdi from his flight. Kenya is also not one of the seven Muslim-majority countries targeted by Trump executive orders.

Still, the president's actions should have no effect on Abdi because he is a U.S. citizen, the attorneys argued.

The Refugee Justice League, which launched about four months ago, has lawyers in Utah who represent refugees and immigrants for free in cases of discrimination. McConkie got a "panicked call" from Abdi on Wednesday evening and, in addition to the court case, plans to speak with U.S. senators, the local embassy and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate his return to the state.

Abbas said he believes the lawsuit is what spurred officials to allow Abdi to return to the U.S.

tfrandsen@sltrib.com

lramseth@sltrib.com

 

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