Top Senate Democrats have joined immigrant rights advocates in calling for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) watchdog to immediately investigate allegations that federal immigration agents and private prison officers tortured a number of Cameroonian men to coerce them into signing their own deportation orders. Just days after advocates filed a complaint last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) despicably tried to deport two of the asylum-seekers.
Groups led by Freedom for Immigrants alleged in their civil rights complaint that ICE and officers at a private prison in Mississippi physically assaulted eight Black immigrants in attempts to force them to sign their deportation papers, leaving one man with broken fingers. “This pattern of coercion and unwarranted use of physical force by ICE officers is abusive, unlawful, and tantamount to torture,” group said.
Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts wrote in their letter to DHS inspector general Joseph V. Cuffari that their offices “have received a deluge of calls from community members, legal advocates, and individuals from around the country who are desperately worried about the potential fate of these asylum-seekers.”
“Roughly 700,000 people have been displaced and several thousand have been killed since the conflict in Cameroon began, with over 3.9 million in desperate need of humanitarian support,” they said. “ICE detainees who would be returned to Cameroon face a high risk of being detained, beaten, disappeared, tortured, or killed. The use of coercion to force detainees to sign deportation orders against their will, to deport them to a country where they face a high risk of torture or death, is unconscionable.”
But in spite of these risks, ICE has continued to deport Black immigrants to this possible death. Freedom for Immigrants said that another ICE flight deporting mainly Cameroonians and Angolans left the U.S. earlier this week:
The statement from the senators says this new request to the DHS inspector general “follows Senator Van Hollen’s previous letters to acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf, urging the administration to halt deportation actions on Cameroonian asylum-seekers until violence in Cameroon has abated.” Van Hollen wrote in that letter that some of the immigrants who were deported “either now live in hiding for fear of their lives or have not been heard from since leaving the U.S.”
“The situation is so dire that some of the family members of those being removed tell me that their loved ones ‘would rather die in ICE custody than be deported to Cameroon,’” he continued. “Many of those scheduled to be removed on November 10 have lost family members in Cameroon at the hands of the police because they dared to seek asylum in the U.S.” It’s unclear how many of them were deported on the flight that left this week.
Halting these deportations is a move the next administration has the ability to carry out on day one—President-elect Joe Biden is reportedly looking into placing a 100-day deportation freeze—but these asylum-seekers are vulnerable right now.
“The use of physical violence and torture to force immigrants in detention to sign their own deportation paperwork is egregious and immoral,” SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project senior supervising attorney Luz Lopez said last month. “The practice underscores ICE's wanton disregard for the rights and human dignity of the Black, Brown and Indigenous people they so callously imprison and deport. These Cameroonian men are calling for justice. Congress must heed their call and not allow ICE to escape accountability for these unconscionable abuses.”