An East Grand Forks mother is without her children after social services removed them from her custody last week. That isn’t an uncommon occurrence, said East Grand Forks Police Deputy Lt. Rodney Hajicek.
What is uncommon about this particular case is the outpouring of support for the mother, Nimo Khalif, from the local Somali community, he said.
More than 100 supporters attended Khalif’s first court appearance in Crookston on Monday, Jan. 28, with some coming from as far away as Minneapolis, said Yasmin Awad, director of the New Americans Integration Center in East Grand Forks. The gathering at the courthouse and at Safari Market in Grand Forks was covered by Somali National Television, and a clip of the event posted on its YouTube page has more than 17,000 views.
This week, more than a dozen women gathered at the Al-huda Islamic Center in East Grand Forks to show solidarity with Khalif again, and the Islamic Center’s president, Abdirisak Duale, is encouraging members of the community to attend the upcoming court date for the single mother on Monday, Feb. 3.
“The main reason this community went to support this lady was she was taking care of her kids very, very good,” Awad said. “So we didn’t know the reason … We didn’t hear any problem before with her and her kids so we were shocked, and she said, ‘I don’t know what was the reason at all that they took my kids.'”
East Grand Forks Police Chief Mike Hedlund said police became involved when one of Khalif’s children reported an incident at home to her teacher on Wednesday, Jan. 16, which the teacher then reported to police. He declined to say exactly what was reported.
Khalif’s six children, ranging in age from 10 months to 16 years old, were removed from her custody on Tuesday, Jan. 22. Hedlund said investigative interviews by social services are ongoing.
Awad said Khalif has raised her six children alone in East Grand Forks since the death of their father. She is a familiar face in the local Somali community and frequently spends time entertaining children at the mosque’s daycare.
After social services took custody of her children, Awad said Khalif reached out to other members of the Somali community for help right away.
“She called us and said ‘hey, my kids were taken, I can’t speak English well, and nobody is telling me what is the reason that they took my kids,'” Awad said. “So she called us and she reached our people, and people came out and wanted to know what is the reason behind this.”
Khalif did not respond to requests for an interview. Khalif’s attorney, DeWayne Johnston of Johnston Law Office in Grand Forks, told the Herald he is still gathering information about the incident, but characterized the allegations as “far-fetched.”
But Hedlund said so far, there’s nothing out of the ordinary about this case, aside from the community response. He added that generally, police encounter minimal problems with the local Somali community, and they are generally very easy to work with.
“It’s not uncommon for children to be removed from the home by us and social services, and typically, nobody knows but that family and then us and social services, because it’s nobody else’s business,” Hedlund said. “In this case though, that particular community tends to, as I said, they kind of do a little bit more group parenting, and do things more as a community rather than as individual families. So it’s certainly unusual by normal U.S. standards, but it doesn’t make it right or wrong. It’s just the way it is.”