An Afghan national convicted of a violent sexual assault was sent back to his home country on commercial air flights from Honolulu last month without an armed escort. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers' national union has complained similar situations happen every day across the country, potentially endangering the public.
The agency routinely sends thousands of deportees with criminal records back to their home countries unescorted on commercial aircraft every year.
On March 31, Hawaii News Now shot video of Mohammad Mohibi carrying his bag toward the Delta Airlines check-in counter at Honolulu International Airport last month.
The 25-year-old was deported to his home country of Afghanistan after he was convicted in Hawaii of the violent sexual assault at knife-point of his estranged wife.
While three customs officers accompanied him to the check-in counter and through the TSA security checkpoint, Mohibi flew back to Kabul alone, without any law enforcement escort , something that upsets Delta passengers.
"It makes me feel completely uneasy," said Vanessa Hamilton of Greensboro, North Carolina, who was leaving Honolulu on the same Delta flight to Atlanta that Mohibi took two weeks earlier.
Sara Racicot of Concord, New Hampshire was getting ready to board the Delta flight as she began the trip home after a Hawaii Vacation.
"That's kind of scary to think about," Racicot said.
A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said the agency determined Mohibi did not pose a threat to himself or the traveling public, so he was not accompanied on the flights by two armed ICE officers, the standard procedure for violent criminals.
"The existence of a criminal conviction or convictions does not, in and of itself, dictate the use of an escort," said ICE spokeswoman Virginia Kice in a statement.
"In this instance, there was no indication Mr. Mohibi had previously exhibited violent behavior toward the general public," she said.
Mohibi was convicted of nine counts of felony sex assault, along with felony burglary and misdemeanor charges of terroristic threatening and violating a protective order.
A police investigation detailed in court records showed Mohibi entered his estranged wife's Waianae home in December 2012 through an unlocked door, and "grabs a hold of ... (her) hair and holds a knife to her throat, while telling her that he will kill her if she tells anyone about this." He then sexually assaulted her, police said.
He spent five months behind bars at Oahu Community Correctional Center and was released in April of last year to the custody of a sponsor at a home in Waianae.
But a few months later, the sponsor told inmate intake personnel Mohibi was "acting crazy, ripping things, spitting and stated that he wanted to dig (his estranged wife's) grave with his bare hands."
The sponsor said she no longer was willing to have Mohibi live with her because he was "a danger to her as well as to her children because of his erratic behavior."
So he was sent back to OCCC for seven months, until February when he was sent to the Federal Detention Center near the airport for deportation.
Delta passengers on the same Atlanta-bound flight that Mohibi took a few weeks earlier disagreed with the government's decision to let him fly by himself.
"He should have been escorted," said Aundrea Reel of Southlake Texas, who was flying home after a Hawaii vacation. "He should have been escorted. That is alarming because I wouldn't want to encounter him at the gate or sitting next to him on the flight. He should have had somebody with him."
Leaders of the national union for Immigrations and Customs Enforcement officers have been complaining about situations like this for more than four years, saying potentially dangerous criminals are flying commercial airlines without escort officers every day across the country.
National union leaders said front-line ICE officers initially will classify a deportee with a criminal background as needing armed escorts but sometimes they are overridden by supervisors, who clear the deportees to fly alone.
"This is an absolute risk to public safety," Chris Crane, an ICE Council 118 union official told the Houston Chronicle newspaper in 2009. "And it's happening every day."
ICE reported in 2013, it sent home 52,935 aliens who'd been convicted of felonies.
The agency will not release how many convicted criminal deportees have been allowed to travel without armed escorts back to their home countries.
In the Hawaii case, ICE said Mohammad Mohibi arrived in his home country of Afghanistan from Hawaii "without incident."
"There have been no recent incidents to ICE's knowledge where unescorted deportees traveling on commercial flights have absconded while being removed," said Kice, the ICE spokeswoman.
ICE notifies airlines when a deportee or deportees are traveling on a commercial flight, Kice said, regardless of whether the people being removed are escorted or unescorted by ICE officers.
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