By Lisa Vives
A plane carrying Cameroonian, Angolan and Congolese asylum seekers due to take off from Alexandria, Louisiana, was cancelled with minutes to spare after advocacy groups published affidavits by detainees of torture by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.
The affidavits listed a host of violent tactics ICE officials had reportedly used to pressure the detainees to submit to their deportation. ICE agents were accused of choking, beating, and forcing the asylum seekers to agree to expulsion by threatening them placement in Covid-19 wards.
ICE was accused of similar abuse in October but denied the claims and did not change its policy of accelerated deportation of African and Caribbean asylum seekers. An ICE spokesperson has now signaled a change in stance.
ICE cancelled the planned deportation “to allow any potential victims or witnesses an opportunity to be interviewed and will conduct an agency review of recent use-of-force reports related to individuals on this flight, and issue any additional guidance or training as deemed necessary,” it wrote in a statement.
Clovis Fozao, one of the detainees facing expulsion spoke to The Intercept news outlet. He described threats made by ICE agents. Detained migrants who didn’t submit to removal, he said, would be moved to Bravo-Alpha, the detention unit where coronavirus-positive detainees are held in quarantine.
The Pine Prairie facility, which is operated by the private prison firm GEO Group, currently has 21 confirmed coronavirus cases, according to ICE’s own tracker.
Among the advocacy groups protesting ICE deportation threats were Freedom for Immigrants, Al Otro Lado, Advocates for Immigrants Rights and Witness at the Border.
Since Cameroon descended into civil war in 2016, more than 400,000 people have fled ethnic and political persecution, with thousands seeking asylum in the United States, wrote the Foreign Policy (FP) news magazine. Many have instead been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), suffering conditions that advocates say flout international norms for the treatment of refugees.
The inhumane treatment comes despite the role of the United States in Cameroon’s civil war, according to FP in an article titled “The United States Has Failed Cameroonian Asylum-Seekers”.
“In addition to their colonial legacies,” they wrote, “western countries have fanned the flames of the crisis by indirectly bankrolling the persecution of Anglophones with funds for infrastructure and counterterrorism operations.
“While the White House denounced (the Paul Biya) administration, the United States donated military helicopters, turboprop jets, and drones to his arsenal. Cameroonians have fled a crisis shaped in part by the West only to be met with hostility on American shores.”
According to Witness at the Border, ICE conducted 1,008 deportation flights in 2020, to at least 31 countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa. Among the deportees was Paul Pierrilus, a 40-year-old financial consultant from New York State who had never been to Haiti and is not a Haitian citizen, according to the country’s ambassador to Washington.