In new FOIA requests, civil rights attorneys request government records after civil rights complaints left unanswered
April 26, 2021, Washington, D.C. – Civil rights attorneys today submitted a pair of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to the federal government seeking information on the government’s use of force, including the use of pepper spray, to coerce Cameroonian asylum seekers in custody to sign their own deportation paperwork and the subsequent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deportation flights to Cameroon that occurred in the waning days of the Trump administration.
The FOIAs were filed by human rights attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, Project South, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and were informed by a grassroots coalition called the Alliance in Defense of Black Immigrants. Obtaining evidence and documentation of the abuses against Black immigrants will be critical to holding the government accountable and preventing future abuses, according to the attorneys.
“I said I didn't want to sign a deportation order,” said one of the Cameroonian asylum seekers, identified as D.F., in a civil rights complaint filed with the DHS Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG). “I said I am afraid to go back to my country. He [ICE agent] promised me he would torture me.”
“The harm inflicted upon Black immigrants, many of whom have since been deported to dangerous situations, can never be undone,” said Luz Lopez, a senior supervising attorney with the SPLC. “But these abuses cannot simply be swept under the rug with the change in government. If we are to take the new administration at their word that they are creating a more fair and humane immigration system, they must exercise transparency, cooperate with a full investigation, and work to ensure these abuses cannot occur in the future.”
The FOIAs, submitted to ICE, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Department of State, and the Executive Office for Immigration Review, request data and records of communication concerning the deportation of Cameroonian immigrants between August 1, 2020 and January 19, 2021.
In that period, immigration advocacy groups filed two civil rights complaints, detailing ICE’s violent and coercive tactics against Cameroonian asylum seekers. The CRCL complaints remain unresolved.
“The government’s mass deportations of Cameroonian and other Black immigrants is inhumane and targeted,” said Samah Sisay, an attorney and Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Black immigrants have consistently resisted their harsh and discriminatory confinement in immigration jails around the country through protests and hunger strikes and the government unlawfully deported them in retaliation for their resistance.”
Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director of Project South, said, “The government must atone for the appalling human rights abuses it has committed within its abominable immigrant prison and deportation apparatus. Black asylum seekers, many of whom faced political persecution in their home countries, referred to their deportation as a ‘death flight.’ These crimes against humanity are unforgivable, and we must never allow them to happen again.”
While some of the immigrants described in the complaints were removed from deportation flights, the government deported an unknown number of Cameroonian and other African asylum seekers despite the life-threatening situations they faced in their home countries, despite the fact that many still had pending immigration court proceedings, and despite the pleas from members of the Congress.
“We filed a civil rights complaint against ICE for abusing and torturing men in their detention center and ICE is secretly deporting these key witnesses in an effort to silence survivors and evade any accountability,” stated Sofia Casini, Director of Visitation Advocacy Strategies at Freedom for Immigrants, one of the groups that filed the civil rights complaints last year. "One of the men named in our complaint publicly alleged ICE agents and guards tortured him and, in turn, ICE swiftly placed him on a deportation flight. They moved to disappear him, despite his active OIG investigation taking place. This is part of a longstanding pattern and practice of ICE rapidly deporting key witnesses who have been tortured in their custody. ICE thrives off secrecy. And it’s high time that ICE be investigated and held accountable for these crimes."
The Southern Poverty Law Center is a catalyst for racial justice in the South and beyond, working in partnership with communities to dismantle white supremacy, strengthen intersectional movements, and advance the human rights of all people. For more information, visit: www.splcenter.org. “SPLCenter” on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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.