WASHINGTON – Cameroon American Council, Freedom for Immigrants, Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Detention Watch Network (DWN), Natchez Network, Haitian Bridge Alliance, and Families for Freedom together filed a multi-individual complaint with the Department for Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) and DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG), condemning the agency for deploying excessive force to coerce Cameroonian asylum seekers into signing their own deportation papers.
According to the complaint, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) coerced eight Cameroonian men detained at the privately operated Adams County Correctional Center in Natchez, Mississippi on September 27 and 28. The complaint describes the coercive tactics, including threats of violence and direct physical abuse to obtain submission, forced taking of fingerprints while individuals are in restraint, and the use of pepper spray against those who decline to sign their deportation papers.
“An ICE agent came to see me Sunday, September 27, 2020 to try to get me to sign a deportation document,” reports a Cameroonian asylum seeker, identified as D.F. in the complaint. “I said I didn't want to sign a deportation order. I said I am afraid to go back to my country. He promised me he would torture me. Monday, September 28, 2020, he came again while I was outside to try to force me to sign, I refused to sign. He pressed my neck into the floor. I said, Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”
Advocates allege that 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.
“These are first hand accounts of torture at the hands of ICE - our gov agents - and guards from private prison companies, paid with our tax money. One of them even stated to a Cameroonian man, “I’m just doing my job” . Since no one is wearing name tags when they’re torturing, impossible to know if this same person broke the fingers of another man that same day,” said Sofia Casini, Director of Visitation Advocacy Strategies at Freedom for Immigrants. “Outrageous! And ICE headquarters is allowing it to happen with full impunity. When we have our own Nuremberg trials, let them answer. This evidence speaks loud and clear to what we know is taking place."
“The use of physical violence and torture to force immigrants in detention to sign their own deportation paperwork is egregious and immoral. The practice underscores ICE's wanton disregard for the rights and human dignity of the Black, Brown and Indigenous people they so callously imprison and deport,” said Luz Lopez, a Senior Supervising Attorney with the SPLC’s Immigrant Justice Project. “These Cameroonian men are calling for justice. Congress must heed their call and not allow ICE to escape accountability for these unconscionable abuses.”
ICE has a documented history of abuse and discrimination against Black immigrants. In late August, Freedom for Immigrants and SPLC filed a CRCL complaint over racist practices at an ICE prison in Louisiana.
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.