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A Louisville Man Was On A Re-Routed Flight Of Somali Deportees. Now He's In Limbo

Juma Muya
Roxanne Scott
Juma Muya

Juma Muya (pictured above) says he likes to live like a king. His small living room is decked out with a large flat-screen television, faux flowers and red carpet. He also has several pictures hung up of his older brother, Salim Muya.

For the past year, Juma says his brother Salim has been in detention in Chicago and Kenosha, Wisconsin. Last Wednesday, Juma got a call from Salim saying he was flying to Somalia.

“Then he told me...they were going to deport them,” Juma Muya said. “Which was, you know, Thursday morning, you know, he told me 'I will be leaving U.S.,' he was crying and stuff like that.”

Last Thursday, 26-year-old Salim Muya was one of the 92 Somalis scheduled to be deported from the United States who boarded a flight. And though the plane took off — it never made it to Somalia.  The plane, which left from Louisiana, landed in Senegal to refuel and exchange pilots. In a peculiar turn of events, the aircraft was rerouted back to the United States and landed in Miami.

A statement from the government said, “ICE was notified that the relief crew was unable to get sufficient rest,” and ultimately re-routed the plane.

Salim's brother Juma Muya is 24 years old, and has been living in the U.S. since he was nine — first in Dallas, then in Louisville. Since 1994, nearly 3,000 refugees from Somalia have been directly resettled in Louisville through the resettlement program. There’s a pretty sizable community living here.

But nationally, deportations of Somalis has been rising. In fiscal year 2017, 521 Somalis were deported — up from 198 from the previous year.

Salim Muya has been in the U.S. since he was 11 years old.

“We don’t know no one in Somalia, basically,” Juma said.

Juma Muya was with his brother when he first got arrested about a year ago. They were about to begin a road trip back to Dallas. But they didn’t even make it out of Louisville before being pulled over. He doesn’t know why.

“The police pulled us over for no reason,” he said.

Juma Muya was eventually let go. For Salim, it was more complicated. In 2011, Salim Muya was sentenced to seven years on felony charges including sexual abuse and wanton endangerment, and served time.

“Basically he always encouraged me, you know, to do the right thing,” Juma Muya said. “Cause you know he didn’t want me to end up like him.”

Salim Muya served his time for his felonies. But when Salim was stopped last year there was still an outstanding warrant. He was arrested and eventually turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Now, it’s unclear what will happen next. The government says it will reschedule the mission to Somalia. Stability in the country has been fickle since the government collapsed in the early 1990’s. In October a truck explosion in the capital killed hundreds, and the Somali government blamed the extremist group Al-Shabaab. A lawyer who had clients on the flight told the New York Times that Somalia is not a safe place to return.

As for Juma Muya, he’s worried his detained brother will remain in limbo.

“Yeah we had a rough life growing up,” Juma Muya says. “But this is our home. We don’t know anywhere other than here, we’ve been here for a while.”

He says he loves this country even though his brother’s future in it is uncertain.

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.