By Matt Bruce
Photo: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement SWAT officers. (Wikimedia Commons)
Deportations from the United States have ramped up in lieu of the Nov. 3 presidential election, according to humanitarians who allege that Immigration and Customs Enforcement has targeted immigrants from African nations with abuse and exile.
Multiple reports from international human rights organizations indicate ICE agents have used torture tactics to coerce African migrants at immigration detention facilities around the country to sign documents sanctioning their own deportations.
According to an Oct. 7 complaint filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center, those who refuse have been pepper-sprayed, with at least one person hospitalized. Meanwhile, guards at the detention centers have forcibly taken detainees’ fingerprints for travel orders known as stipulated orders of removal. The prints authorize the migrants’ deportations in the absence of their signatures.
Many of the those being expelled from American soil, according to advocates, are Cameroonian refugees who fled to the U.S. seeking asylum from civil war in their homeland. They face the prospect of death from dictatorship and separatist violence when they are returned to the war-ravaged nation.
“I came here for safety. I never knew about this inhumane treatment happening here in the U.S.A.,” one Cameroonian detainee identified in the complaint as ‘E.O.’ told attorneys during an Oct. 1 deposition. “Please help me get out. I want out of here.”
The Department of Homeland Security has come under pressure as the claims of abuse at ICE detention camps have grown louder. Lawyers and watchdog advocates in the human rights community have called for the federal agency’s civil rights and civil liberties office to investigate the allegations.
The complaint detailed the abuse allegations of eight men held at the Adams County Correctional Center, an ICE detention facility near Natchez, Mississippi. All of them reached out to various advocacy groups in late September and early October with similar reports of abuse.
Some said they were taken to a back room in the facility where there were no cameras and there were beaten, choked, and threatened with more torture if they refused to sign deportation papers.
“I said I am afraid to go back to my country,” one of the alleged victims said he told an ICE agent. “He promised me he would torture me. Monday, September 28, 2020, he came again while I was outside to try to force me to sign; I refused to sign. He pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”
SPLC was part of a coalition of immigration rights organizations that assembled to file the complaint. The advocacy group condemned ICE in an Oct. 8 press statement, deeming the law enforcement agency’s use of torture and physical violence “egregious and immoral.”
“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,” said Luz Lopez, a senior attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “These Cameroonian men are calling for justice. Congress must heed their call and not allow ICE to escape accountability for these unconscionable abuses.”
Freedom for Immigrants, another immigration advocacy group, was the other primary driver for the complaint.
Christina Fialho, FFI’s executive director, told The Guardian that abuse against African immigrants is always prevalent, but it has increased dramatically in recent weeks. Deportations have skyrocketed.
“The reality is that Ice operates in the shadows. They thrive in secrecy,” Fialho told The Guardian. “We know that the US government is deporting key witnesses in an effort to silence survivors and absolve Ice of legal liability.”
According to an Oct. 22 statement, ICE deported 60 Cameroonian men and 28 Congolese immigrants from a Dallas-Fort Worth airport on Oct. 13. The flight included two women who underwent gynecological procedures without informed consent at a Georgia detention center, according to FFI officials.
Witness at the Border, an immigration rights advocacy group, tracked the plane, noting that it stopped in Senegal, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya before returning to Texas. The group said some of the Cameroonian and Congolese exiles remained in “quarantine” while others were being interrogated.
FFI officials said ICE has also deployed six deportation flights to Haiti this month and is planning more for Cameroon and Ethiopia.
Many advocates point to the looming presidential election as the reason for the uptick as a power shakeup in the presidential and congressional races could lead to a shift in America’s immigration policy.
Sarah Loicano, an Ice spokeswoman, confirmed that a formal complaint had been submitted to the DHS inspector general. She told The Guardian that ICE is committed to the “safety and welfare” of those in custody at detention centers.
“That said, in general, sensationalist unsubstantiated allegations, particularly those made anonymously and without any fact-checkable specifics, is irresponsible, and should be treated with the greatest of skepticism,” Loicano said in the interview.