Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Protesters seen holding a banner reading SEEKING ASYLUM IS NOT A CRIME outside the Staten Island Ferry in New York. (Photo: Erik McGregor/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Rights Groups Demand Records on Trump Admin's 'Death Flight' Deportations of Cameroonian Asylum Seekers

"The government's mass deportations of Cameroonian and other Black immigrants are inhumane and targeted."

Julia Conley

Accusing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement of "crimes against humanity," civil rights attorneys with three organizations filed Freedom of Information Act requests on Monday, demanding information on the federal government's use of excessive force and coercion to deport asylum seekers. 

The requests were submitted by lawyers at the Center for Constitutional Rights, Project South, and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) on behalf of several refugees from Cameroon. The Alliance in Defense of Black Immigrants worked with the groups to file the requests. 

"The government's mass deportations of Cameroonian and other Black immigrants [are] inhumane and targeted," said Samah Sisay, an attorney and Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. 

"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."
—Azadeh Shahshahani, Project South

According to the asylum seekers' complaints, ICE agents used pepper spray and, in some cases, methods of torture, to force them to sign deportation paperwork between August 2020 and January 2021, in the last months of the Trump administration. 

"I said I didn't want to sign a deportation order," one Cameroonian asylum seeker wrote in a civil rights complaint (pdf) 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. [An ICE agent] promised me he would torture me... He pressed my neck into the floor. I said, 'Please, I can't breathe.' I lost my blood circulation."

Last year, the U.S. government deported an unknown number of Cameroonians and other African refugees, sending them back to their home countries to potentially face violence and persecution. Many of the asylum seekers had pending trials in immigration court.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed and tens of thousands have been displaced in the past several years amid violence perpetrated by separatists and the armed group Boko Haram.

According to Human Rights Watch, people who are deported to Cameroon "face a serious risk of abuse by government security forces because they may be assumed to have links to separatists, or from the separatists themselves."

"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,'" said Azadeh Shahshahani, legal and advocacy director of Project South. "These crimes against humanity are unforgivable, and we must never allow them to happen again."

In February, more than 40 members of Congress wrote to President Joe Biden and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, calling on them to grant temporary protected status to Cameroonians and place an 18-month pause on their deportations.

"Country conditions in Cameroon are both extraordinary and temporary, making return untenable and warranting immediate protections for Cameroonians living in the United States," the letter said.

Although former President Donald Trump's term is over, the attorneys said Monday, President Joe Biden must take responsibility for ensuring that asylum seekers from Cameroon and other countries are not put in harm's way.

The abuse of Black immigrants by the U.S. "cannot simply be swept under the rug with the change in government," said Luz Lopez, a senior supervising attorney with the SPLC.

"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," she added.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

Because of people like you, another world is possible. There are many battles to be won, but we will battle them together—all of us. Common Dreams is not your normal news site. We don't survive on clicks. We don't want advertising dollars. We want the world to be a better place. But we can't do it alone. It doesn't work that way. We need you. If you can help today—because every gift of every size matters—please do. Without Your Support We Simply Don't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Democrats Demand Amazon and Facebook End Efforts to 'Sideline' FTC Chair Lina Khan

"Your efforts only add to the perception that you are attempting to bully your regulators, disarm the FTC, and avoid accountability rather than to strengthen ethics standards."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Follows House Dems' Letter by Imploring Biden to Close Gitmo 'Once and for All'

"This letter, signed by four House committee chairs, should send a clear message to President Biden: He has the political support to swiftly close the detention center at Guantánamo."

Brett Wilkins ·

'Truly Disturbing': Facebook Blasted for Blocking NYU Researchers Examining Ad Model and Misinformation

"It is disgraceful that Facebook is attempting to squash legitimate research that is informing the public about disinformation on their platform."

Jessica Corbett ·

After Decades-Long Grassroots Push, Key Senate Panel Votes to Repeal Iraq War Authorization

Rep. Barbara Lee, the only member of the U.S. House to vote against the AUMF in 2001, called the vote "a major victory in our fight to end forever wars."

Julia Conley ·

Mexico Files Historic Lawsuit Against US Gun Companies Fueling Cartel Carnage

The first-of-its-kind suit alleges U.S. weapons firms "design, market, distribute, and sell guns in ways they know routinely arm the drug cartels in Mexico."

Brett Wilkins ·