ICE is being accused of strangling, beating and choking Cameroonian detainees who refuse to sign orders expediting their own deportation, according to The Guardian.
Multiple accounts, shared with the newspaper through lawyers and phone interviews, depict vicious attacks by federal immigration agents seeking to deport as many people as possible, as fast as possible.
“The abuse we are witnessing, especially right now against black immigrants, isn’t new, but it is escalating. In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in ICE prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants.
Immigration rights group Witness at the Border said on Oct. 13, ICE put 60 Cameroonian and 28 Congolese asylum seekers on a plane in Fort Worth. All of the people on the flight had told ICE officials that they had been personally tortured by the Cameroonian military before fleeing the country or had family members who were killed, yet they were still deported.
The Guardian reported that all of those deported were arrested by the Cameroonian military when they arrived in Douala. Some people had family members who were able to pay bribes and free them but many have not been heard from.
“We have no knowledge of what happened to those that were deported. We know they arrived, but we haven’t heard what happened after they arrived at the airport,” lawyer Evaristus Nkongchu said.
The treatment they received on arrival in Cameroon mirrored much of what they faced in the United States while being held by ICE in Mississippi.
When multiple detainees refused to sign their own "stipulated orders of removal" which allow officials to deport them without court proceedings, they were beaten, handcuffed and pepper-sprayed, according to their lawyers.
For many, ICE officials simply forced their hand down onto the sheet of paper to get their fingerprint, in one instance breaking a detainee's fingers. Many of those who can testify to their treatment are being deported before they can testify.
“The reality is that ICE operates in the shadows. They thrive in secrecy. We know that the US government is deporting key witnesses in an effort to silence survivors and absolve ICE of legal liability,” Fialho said.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and Freedom for Immigrants have filed a lawsuit on behalf of the detainees who were abused, listing a range of abuses and horrifying treatment. The lawsuit contains alarming testimony from a number of detainees who said they were tortured into signing documents against their will.
A witness, identified only as B.J., told lawyers for the organizations that ICE officers "pepper-sprayed me in the eyes and Mr. Green strangled me almost to the point of death."
"I kept telling him, 'I can't breathe.' I almost died. I was coughing so much after and my throat still hurts a lot. I can't see well still from the pepper spray. As a result of the physical violence, they were able to forcibly obtain my fingerprint on the document," B.J. said. "I was hospitalized after the incident but they didn't treat me at all. I tried to wash my eyes with toilet water. They did not even allow me to use a sink to wash out my eyes. I can't see well right now."
“As a result of the physical violence, they were able to forcibly obtain my fingerprint on the document,” BJ added.
One of the other detainees, who was on the Oct. 13 flight and has not been heard from since, described prolonged physical abuse after refusing to sign the removal order.
"An ICE agent came to see me Sunday, September 27, 2020, to try to get me to sign a deportation document. 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," a man identified as D.F. told the lawyers.
"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. After they tortured me then about four CoreCivic Officers and two ICE officers took me to Zulu," D.F. said, adding that the officers put him on his knees and said they were going to kill him.
Another man said he was dragged across the ground and handcuffed before officers broke his fingers and forced his fingerprint onto the paper.
In recent months, advocates and lawyers have said there has been a deliberate effort to increase the scope and frequency of deportations, particularly with Black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean, according to advocacy group RAICES.
While each group faces different challenges when being returned to their home country, many of the Cameroonian immigrants being deported are returning to particularly dangerous conditions. The vast majority of Cameroonian immigrants to the United States, according to The Guardian, are from the country's English-speaking minority, which has been under attack from the government for years in an effort to squash a burgeoning separatist movement.
"I am taking this step because I have determined that the Government of Cameroon currently engages in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights," Trump said in a statement in November 2019.
"Despite intensive engagement between the United States and the Government of Cameroon, Cameroon has failed to address concerns regarding persistent human rights violations being committed by Cameroonian security forces. These violations include extrajudicial killings, arbitrary and unlawful detention, and torture," he added.
Despite this, Trump's own government has accelerated deportations of the people being persecuted by the Cameroonian government and abandoning them in situations that leave them vulnerable to recrimination from the military there.
ICE spokeswoman Sarah Loicano said that the testimony in the lawsuits was "sensationalist unsubstantiated allegations," and criticized them for being made anonymously.
But in recent weeks, multiple revelations have come out about how ICE treats the people it detains, particularly Black immigrants.
Just weeks ago it was reported that ICE was forcing women in detention to have unwanted hysterectomies. Members of Congress had to step in and stop authorities from deporting a Cameroonian woman, Pauline Binam, who made one of the allegations. Like those making the current abuse allegations, many of the women who said they were given forcible hysterectomies have already been deported.
This week it was also revealed by multiple news outlets, including NBC News, that nearly 600 children detained at the border and separated from their families still have not been found and may never be reunited with relatives.