The family of six's lawsuit was filed on their behalf by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). It claims that they were on their way back to the States in 2015 when they were stopped by the border patrol. They handed the officials their US passports and their children's birth certificates. Moments later, the border officials drew their firearms and detained the entire family.
The patriarch of the family, Abdisalam Wilwal, wrote in the lawsuit that he was separated from his wife and children before being handcuffed and interrogated. They accused him of being a terrorist, asked him if he was a Muslim, and questioned the nature of his trip to Canada. When he asked for a lawyer, an interpreter, or something to eat, he was denied. At one point, he passed out and required medical attention.
His wife, Sagal Abdigani, was allowed to remain with the children. She says her 14-year-old stepson tried to call the police on his cell phone, but border officials confiscated the mobile device and patted the boy down.
The incident probably occurred, according to the family's lawyers, because Wilwal's name was a hit on the US' sprawling terrorist watchlist. Exact figures are unknown but it is estimated that around 1 million people are on the list, and the lawsuit purports that Wilwal was placed on the list for no known reason.
"The [Customs and Border Protection] CBP officers treated the family this way not because they had probable cause to believe anyone in the family had committed a crime, but because Abdisalam Wilwal's name appeared on the government's terrorism-related watchlist," the lawsuit reads.
After their release, the family returned to their home in Eagan, Minnesota. They launched a complaint against the Department of Homeland Security, and according to the lawsuit a DHS staffer called them and told them that the incident "likely occurred because Mr. Wilwal's name appeared on a terrorist watchlist."
Wilwal and Abdigani came to the United States as refugees after the Somalian Civil War in the 1990s. The lawsuit stipulates that profiling based on race and creed was the reason they were stopped.
Despite coming from a country that is 99.8 percent Muslim, Wilwal and Abdigani claim to not be Muslims. "It should be noted that [Wilwal] stated that he and his family do not associate themselves with any type of religion. It should also be noted that during a border search of a cellular telephone belonging to [Wilwal's] stepson… and app called 'Muslim Pro' was discovered," the document reads.
The CBP refused to comment on the case, citing the ongoing investigation. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), who also were involved in the detainment, similarly did not comment.