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'After about 5 minutes of struggle, they forced my index finger on the paper': ICE Forcing More Asylum Seekers to Sign Deportation Paperwork as Another Deportation Flight to Cameroon Looms

Weeks after ICE deported more than 50 Cameroonians, six more asylum seekers detail agency’s use of force and torture in Louisiana prisons

NEW ORLEANS – On Thursday, November 5, immigrant rights organizations filed a new multi-individual Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG), detailing Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) continued use of force and torture against Cameroonian asylum seekers to obtain signed deportation paperwork.

The complaint comes as individuals in detention are reporting to advocates and attorneys that ICE is preparing for another deportation flight to Cameroon, possibly scheduled for November 10. Four of the six named in the complaint were recently transferred to Prairieland Detention Center, signaling that ICE may include them on a deportation flight from Dallas. 

The organizations filing the complaint include Freedom for Immigrants, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Detention Watch Network, Families for Freedom, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Louisiana Aid and Witness at the Border.

According to the complaint, ICE used coercive tactics against six Cameroonian asylum seekers detained at the privately-operated Jackson County Correctional Center in Jackson Parish, Louisiana. Tactics include  threats of violence, physical abuse and forced taking of fingerprints in restraint to forcibly certify deportation and travel paperwork. The CRCL complaint comes on the heels of a previous complaint filed in October which detailed similar abuses against eight Cameroonian asylum seekers in the Adams County Correction Center in Mississippi, another privately-run immigrant prison under the jurisdiction of the New Orleans ICE Field Office. 

“I said that my case is under a pending motion to reopen and I wished to speak to my attorney, but they refused to honor my request,” described one individual, identified as B.N. “They told me whether I wanted or not, I was obliged to place my fingerprint...I refused and when they realized that I wasn’t going to sign, they called over ICE Supervisor Dover who lunged at me and put his hand on my neck. I slid under the table to hide. Other officers came to help them force my fingerprint. I started screaming and asking for help. There were many people there, and they pulled me from under the table, stripping off my pants and underwear. I was lying face down...They pressed my left arm until it hurt, while others tried to place my right hand finger onto the paper. It was very painful.”

According to advocates, ICE officers’ pattern and practice of physical and verbal coercion is unlawful, unacceptable and tantamount to torture. The complaint details how these acts of abuse are in violation of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, which the US has ratified, as well as ICE’s own standards.

To Cameroonians and advocates, the inhumanity of the forced deportation signings and continued deportation flights is reflective of the systemic anti-Blackness and disparate outcomes that Black immigrants face in the U.S. immigration system.

“The way they treat us is not what I pictured in my mind before coming to the United States,” said one of the complainants identified as G.N. “I have heard of other people who went to the United States, and they have not gone through the treatment I have gone through in Louisiana. As far as the judges are concerned, they don’t treat us like immigrants. They treat us like prisoners.”

This is the fourth CRCL complaint the organizations have filed against the New Orleans ICE Field Office this year. According to the complaints, Black immigrants – in Louisiana, Cameroonians in particular – have borne the brunt of ICE’s abuses and violent tactics. In August, FFI and SPLC filed a CRCL complaint over racist practices at the Pine Prairie Detention Center, another privately-operated prison in rural Louisiana.

“The New Orleans ICE Field Office has demonstrated a disturbing pattern and practice of unconscionable human rights abuses and outright racist treatment,” said Luz Lopez, a Senior Supervising Attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “Instead of costly ICE detention and more deportations, we can honor the human dignity of Black immigrants while welcoming them into communities where they will find safety and opportunity.”

"Anti-Blackness and white supremacy are at the core of how our immigration system operates,” said Sofia Casini, Director of Visitation Advocacy Strategies at Freedom for Immigrants. “We are seeing this acutely play out now as Black immigrants are routinely subjected to acts of violence and coercion. The alarming reports of ongoing abuse in ICE prisons underscores the urgent need to free all people from detention, reunite families and communities, and abolish detention."

Advocates continue to call on ICE to follow public health guidance of medical professionals during the COVID-19 pandemic and place an immediate moratorium on deportations and transfers during the COVID-19 pandemic and for the agency to use discretionary powers to release those in its custody, including release on parole, recognizance, and via community based alternatives to detention programming.

View the complaint here.