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Cameroonian Asylum-Seeker Files Suit Alleging ICE Officers Knelt on His Neck as Advocates Cry Out for End to Discrimination Against Black Immigrants

A Cameroonian asylum-seeker filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government on Aug. 12, alleging ICE officers in a Louisiana detention center knelt on his neck and suffocated him in order to get him to sign deportation documents.

Acheleke Fuanya is one of several Cameroonian asylum-seekers who have alleged they suffered abuse at the hands of ICE agents attempting to force them to accept deportation, The Guardian newspaper reported.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement SWAT officers. (Wikimedia Commons)

Advocates are calling for the abuse of Cameroonian asylum-seekers to end and for the U.S. to extend Temporary Protected Status to Cameroonians fleeing persecution in their country, where strife between English speakers and the French-speaking majority has created a humanitarian crisis.

On Aug. 3, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issued a new 18-month extension of Temporary Protected Status for Haitian nationals who had been in the U.S. as of July 29, but that order still locks out Haitians fleeing the devastation caused by the 7.2 magnitude earthquake that rocked the Tiburon Peninsula in the country’s southwest on Aug. 14.

A late July letter sent by House Judiciary Committee Democrats to Department of Homeland Security calls for the same protections be extended to Cameroonian nationals the fleeing burgeoning ethnic conflict in their homeland.

“As Members of the House Judiciary Committee, we write to express our deep concern about the devastating humanitarian situation in Cameroon. As a result of ongoing and deadly armed conflicts across the country that have cost thousands of lives and left an estimated 4.4 million people in need of urgent humanitarian assistance, we ask that you take immediate steps to designate Cameroon for Temporary Protected Status.”

After several Cameroonian asylum-seekers made allegations of abuse, a February deportation flight bound for Africa was canceled at the last minute.

According to the lawsuit filed by Fuanya in a Colorado district court, the officers took his fingerprint by force to use it in place of a signature on a document.

“The officers surrounded Mr Fuanya, tripped him to the ground, and kneeled on his neck, and pulled his head forward in order to suffocate him,” the complaint says. “Other officers yanked his arms and twisted his leg and ankle. Even after Mr Fuanya pleaded with the officers to get off of him because he could not breathe, they continued to choke him until they grabbed his fingers and forcibly fingerprinted him.”

The suit says the incident left Fuanya with persistent back and wrist pain as well as PTSD.

Black immigrants make up about 7 percent of the United States immigrant population. About 500,000 of the 4 million Black immigrants in the country are undocumented, according to the America Friends Service Committee.

Advocates say Black immigrants are dually harmed due to their status, as they face increased racial profiling and discrimination from local law enforcement while remaining more likely to be targeted by immigration authorities

During his campaign, President Joe Biden promised to change the current immigration system by ending prolonged detention and reversing Trump-era asylum policies. Now activists want to know how Biden will address the problems facing Black immigrants.

“Black immigrants exist, so immigration is a Black issue,” said Yoliswa Cele, a spokesperson for the Black immigration advocacy group UndocuBlack. “Black immigrants are constantly profiled. Things that could be a ticket then turn into misdemeanors. Black immigrants also have the highest visa denial rates. Black immigrants are more likely, when they are detained, to be put in solitary confinement. We bear the brunt of all the consequences that happen, all the xenophobia in this country.” 

Black immigrants also face a disproportionate risk of deportation in part because they have more interactions with police. Between 2003 and 2015, when the non-citizen population was about seven percent Black, Black people made up 10.6 percent of detention proceedings, and 20 percent of those on criminal grounds, according to New York University’s Immigrant Rights Clinic and the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.

Last year, ICE deported over 100 Cameroonians and Haitians after they protested, mistreatment in a Mississippi detention facility, including medical neglect, forced hysterectomies, and poor conditions.

Disparities facing Black immigrants have been magnified in recent decades as the number of foreign-born Black people in America continues to climb, in turn, causing the need for policy to address concerns about discrimination in immigration affairs to escalate.

As the conversation around immigration remained framed around Latino immigrants, Abraham Paulos, director of policy and communications for the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, told the ACLU last year, “Irish and Italian immigrants, along with some white-passing Latinx immigrants, can assimilate into white America,” he added. “Black immigrants don’t have that option. We’re integrated into Black America along with all the systems of oppression and discrimination.”

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