DHS and ICE Ordered By Court to Conduct New Searches for Info on Abuse and Wrongful Deportation of Cameroonians

FOIA Lawsuit by Civil Rights Groups Concerns "Death Flights"; Previous Records Reveal Officials' Racist Views of Black Migrants

March 14, 2024, New York – A district court judge has ruled that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) failed to carry out adequate searches for internal records relating to the wrongful deportation of asylum seekers back into danger in civil war-torn Cameroon. Coerced returns via “death flights” occurred in 2020-21 amid numerous reports that ICE officials had used pepper spray, solitary confinement, and other forms of abuse to force Cameroonians to sign their own deportation orders. 

The judge’s decision comes in response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit filed in October 2021 by the Center for Constitutional Rights, Project South, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) as part of an advocacy effort led by the Cameroon Advocacy Network, a grassroots coalition. He instructed DHS and ICE to conduct new searches in consultation with the plaintiffs. The State Department, by contrast, performed an adequate search, the judge found, but he instructed it to produce documents that were improperly redacted. 

"We commend the district court's decisive ruling,” said Daniel Tse, Cameroon Advocacy Network/Haitian Bridge Alliance. “Of paramount significance is the court's directive instructing DHS and ICE to undertake new searches, underscoring the imperative for accountability and transparency in immigration proceedings. They can't keep sweeping under the rug the harsh reality of what they've done to Cameroonian asylum seekers. And let's not forget those who've been deported – they deserve protection too. While the Biden Administration's extension of Temporary Protected Status to Cameroonian asylum seekers is a step forward, the ongoing mistreatment of Black migrants underscores the urgent need to issue Humanitarian Parole for Cameroonians."

Cameroon’s civil war, rooted in colonial partition after World War I, has inflicted widespread suffering on civilians and displaced more than 700,000. The deported asylum seekers are from the Anglophone minority, which is seeking independence from the Francophone-controlled government. Many had testified in immigration court that security forces had tortured them and killed their family members. The Trump administration proceeded with the flights even after many previously deported asylum seekers had gone missing. After one of the flights landed, Cameroonian police imprisoned at least two passengers, according to pro-government media.    

Documents obtained by the plaintiffs in 2023 provide context for wrongful deportations of Cameroonian asylum seekers. They reveal that U.S. government officials expressed racist attitudes toward Black migrants, treated their deportation as sport, and summarily dismissed reports of abuse. They also show the government defying court orders against deporting Black migrants, even though officials elsewhere express concern about unjust treatment. In August 2023, CCR filed a Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) lawsuit on behalf of two Cameroonians who were deported and experienced these types of abuses. 

The plaintiffs are seeking additional records that might shed more light on the government’s mistreatment of Black migrants. Civil rights complaints filed during this period, which detail ICE’s violent and coercive tactics against Cameroonian asylum seekers, remain unresolved. 

“The initial records show a disturbing pattern and practice of anti-Black racism in the U.S. immigration system but there is still much more to uncover,” said Luz Lopez, senior supervising attorney for the SPLC. “This is why today’s court ruling is so important. We seek full transparency around the illegal deportation of Black migrants in 2021.”

“Cameroonian asylum seekers came to the United States seeking protection but were instead met with confinement in immigration jails,  discriminatory abuse, and unlawful deportations,” said Samah Sisay, an attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “The government must stop avoiding accountability and provide the records requested to ensure these abuses never happen again.” 

In response to the outrage over the “death flights,” both among activists and members of Congress, the Biden Administration granted Cameroonian asylum seekers Temporary Protected Status in 2022 and has extended it until June of 2025. Nonetheless, extensive reporting shows that in the United States, Black migrants face particularly brutal treatment from immigration authorities, and they stand to suffer the most from the increasingly anti-immigrant environment that both Republicans and the Biden administration are fueling. 

“Anti-Black racism compounds the endemic injustices of the U.S. immigration system,” said Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director of Project South. “ICE must not be allowed to continue its attempts to hide critical information about the brutality it inflicted upon Cameroonian asylum seekers. Nothing short of full transparency and accountability is warranted.”


The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.


Last modified 

March 14, 2024