Entering the U.S., American Citizen Family Detained for Hours at Gunpoint by Border Officers, Lawsuit Says

Canada Border
A highway traffic sign on the U.S side of its border with Canada, at Emerson, Manitoba, February 25. REUTERS/Lyle Stafford

Updated | A family of U.S. citizens has filed a lawsuit claiming they were detained at the U.S.-Canada border for 10 hours and had guns pointed at their children.

Abdisalam Wilwal and his wife Sagal Abdigani, who are originally from Somalia, and their four children were in March 2015 detained at the border station at Portal, North Dakota, while attempting to return to the U.S. from Canada. They claim they were surrounded by armed officers who accused Wilwal of being linked with terrorists.

The couple's 8-year-old daughter was so frightened, she told Abdigani, "Maybe they'll kill us after sunset."

Abdigani claims she asked the officers if it would be possible for a friend to come to collect the children but was told by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer, "You're all the same. You're all detainees, including the children."

"My kids still have nightmares about this awful experience," Abdigani said in a statement released by the American Civil Liberties Union, which is bringing the lawsuit along with the law firm Robins Kaplan.

"We were all so scared, I was honestly worried that we would all be killed. We can't go visit my family in Canada because we're afraid something like this will happen again," she added.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to Newsweek's request for comment prior to press time.

The family discovered Wilwal's name was on a terrorism watch list, though he claims he does not know why he is on the list and says he does not believe there is any good reason.

During the time the family was held, Wilwal became ill and passed out, requiring medical attention. So distressing was the situation that the family called 911 and said they were being held against their will.

"The border is not a rights-free zone, and what this family went through was clearly unconstitutional," said ACLU attorney Hugh Handeyside in a statement.

"The government needs to put policies in place to ensure that the kind of abuse the Wilwals and their children suffered doesn't happen again," Handeyside added.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Sagal Abdigani is originally from Ethiopia and neglected to include her husband Abidsalam Wilwal's country of origin. They are both originally from Somalia.