Jonathan* is a 30-year-old Black Cameroonian asylum seeker who has been detained in various Louisiana immigration detention centers for 18 months. As a member of the English-speaking minority oppressed by the French-speaking majority in Cameroon, he was wrongfully jailed, beaten, and tortured before he escaped to the U.S. In detention, Jonathan has faced exposure to COVID-19 due to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) neglect of recommended protocols. At one point, he was placed in solitary confinement for 13 days for participating in a hunger strike. According to his Immigration Justice Campaign volunteer attorney Ruth Hargrove, “The bottom line is that neither ICE nor the contractors who run these facilities appear to see those in custody as humans.”
Jonathan and Ruth were interviewed by NPR’s This American Life this month about his valiant fight against his deportation to a country where, according to Jonathan, his chances of being killed are “100%.”
According to the Cameroon American Council (CAC), more than 100 Cameroonian asylum seekers have been deported in recent months. ICE’s treatment and deportation of countless Cameroonian asylum seekers and other Black immigrants have been shrouded in secrecy, despite reports from these individuals that they are facing overt anti-Black racism in the form of targeted retaliation at the hands of the U.S. government.
Just this month, ICE deported dozens of Cameroonian asylum seekers back to danger. The flight included some of the Juneteenth Cameroonians, who led repeated hunger strikes at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana. Also deported were men named in a complaint filed by the CAC and partners alleging that ICE coerced and physically tortured them to get them to sign documents related to their deportations.
Justice Campaign volunteer and AILA attorney Adriana Heffley worked behind the scenes with our local partners at the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative (SIFI) to determine whether her client, David*, was aboard the deportation flight. Reports from attorneys and clients that ICE has recently deported individuals like David (who do not have deportation orders, or who have judicial stays of removal) led her to take these steps. Adriana said that she was “taken aback to learn the night before the flight that David’s name was on the list of asylum seekers who were going to be deported to Cameroon. It was infuriating to hear, because he has a stay of removal explicitly protecting him from deportation while his asylum appeal is pending. My contacts at the Justice Campaign, SIFI and I spent a frantic 12 hours confirming David’s location and planning to intercept him at the airport if necessary before confirming that ICE was not, in fact, going to place him on the flight.”
ICE’s lack of transparency regarding the number and wellbeing of Cameroonian and other Black immigrants in its custody has exacerbated the issue. A recent letter to Congress from CAC, joined by AILA and the American Immigration Council, points out the alarming asylum denial rates faced by Cameroonian asylum seekers and demands that ICE provide insights on the number of Black immigrants in its custody. The politicized hiring of immigration judges and prolonged detention continue to adversely impact African immigrants in detention. These challenges are intensified for the many immigrants who do not have access to lawyers or interpreters who speak their language.
We must continue to amplify these important issues and advocate for change. You can join the social media movement to call on ICE to halt these deportations using the sample tweets below and the Cameroon American Council’s social media toolkit.
ICE has deported dozens of Cameroonians back to danger. Listen to the story of Jonathan*, who was slated to be on a recent deportation flight, but was granted a final hour stay of removal with the help of his attorney. https://bit.ly/35e4nAr #FreeCameroonians
URGENT: Asylum seekers from a persecuted English-speaking minority group in Cameroon are scheduled to be deported back to danger this week. I am calling on @ICEgov to #StopTheDeathPlane. #FreeCameroonians #DoNotDeportCameroonianProtestors
Listen to the story of Jonathan* on This American Life. He was slated to be deported with dozens of fellow Cameroonian asylum seekers this week. I am calling on @ICEgov to #StopTheDeathPlane. https://bit.ly/35e4nAr #FreeCameroonians #DoNotDeportCameroonianProtestors