On October 13, United States Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handcuffed 57 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese immigrants, took them out of Prairieland Detention Center near Dallas, Texas, and forced them on to a charter flight from a small airport in Fort Worth, Texas. The flight, a Boeing 767 operated by Omni Air International, flew to Douala, Cameroon, and Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, before returning to the US.
Among the Africans deported were men who had been tortured by ICE officials while in detention to get them to sign their own deportation orders, men who had gone on an extended hunger strike to protest their racist detention conditions, and two women who had allegedly been operated on against their will by a doctor known as the “uterus collector” at Irwin County Detention Center in Ocilla, Georgia.
Most of the Cameroonians on the flight were Anglophone Cameroonians who were afraid that Paul Biya’s government would imprison or kill them upon their return to Cameroon, one of the detainees’ relatives told me. ICE deported them even though five members of Congress, including the head of the department of homeland security committee and the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent two letters to ICE’s director, specifically asking them to halt the deportations until a full investigation into the abuses had taken place.
The October 13 deportation flight is part of an overall strategy of the Trump administration to target African immigration, which was increasing in the years before he came to office. The administration restricted immigration from a quarter of the African continent through his Muslim and African bans. In the run-up to the November 3 election, immigration advocates say ICE has rapidly increased deportations of African and Haitian immigrants.
An increase in African asylum seekers to the US began in 2015, when the European Union began a severe crackdown on African migration via the Mediterranean Sea. The EU did this primarily by paying Libyan militias to trap Black migrants in concentration camps and paying for Niger’s military to hunt migrant smugglers in the Sahara Desert.
Africans who might have previously decided to make the journey to Europe instead travelled to Brazil or Ecuador, two states that allowed visa-free entry, and made the unforgiving overland journey to the US-Mexico border. Thousands of Congolese, Angolans, Nigerians, Ghanaians and Eritreans, and others, have sought asylum this way in the past five years, but by far the largest group, according to immigration organisations, are Anglophone Cameroonians.
Though the Trump administration has targeted African immigration for restrictions more than previous administrations, anti-African policies have been a mainstay in the US since the country’s founding, which relied on the kidnapping and labour of enslaved Africans. Anti-immigration measures are often bipartisan; Barack Obama’s administration deported more people than any other American president.
African asylum seekers are often driven out of their countries in part by policies implemented by the US, and those policies are also bipartisan. Cameroonian asylum-seekers, for example, are mainly fleeing a brutal civil war in the Anglophone regions. The elite Cameroonian military unit that has carried out some of the worst human rights abuses in that war has been trained and equipped by the US and Israel.
As the election approaches, immigration advocates have looked to presidential candidate Joe Biden as their main hope for repealing some of the more pernicious measures passed in the last four years. But Biden’s immigration platform has no measures designed to specifically alleviate the concerns of African immigrants. To combat this, immigration advocates such as Sylvie Bello, the chief executive of Cameroon American Council, are pushing for new protections, including Temporary Protected Status for Cameroonian asylum-seekers.
Joe Penney is a journalist, photographer, filmmaker and co-founder of the Mali-based news website and production company, Sahelien.com.
This story first appeared in The Continent, the award-winning pan-African newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Get your free copy here.