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Newly Obtained Documents Detail U.S. Government Officials’ Racist Views of Black Migrants

ATLANTA – U.S. government officials expressed racist attitudes toward Black migrants, treated their deportation as sport, and dismissed reports of abuse, internal documents obtained by advocacy and activist groups through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request show. The records cover 2020-2021, the period coinciding with the “death flights” to Cameroon, in which the U.S. government sent migrants back into danger. The communications provide valuable context for the documented abuse and discrimination the government has inflicted on Black migrants.

“Cameroonian migrants and advocates have long held that the mass deportation flights to Cameroon and other African countries in 2020 and 2021 were a targeted and racist response to demands for humane treatment,” said Samah Sisay, a staff attorney at Center for Constitutional Rights. “These documents show U.S. government officials' disregard for Black migrants, and the lack of response to some of our document requests highlights a continued desire to avoid accountability for the harms inflicted as a result of these deportations.”

The key findings are outlined in a briefing guide released today by Project South, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. The communications describe a culture in which derisive comments about Black migrants are routine. In an email, a high-level official for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) working in Cameroon discussed the difficulty of finding a Catholic church that had not been “aficanized [sic].” In the same email chain, an official treats deportation as sport, expressing concern about going “0-2.” A cable generated by the U.S. Embassy in Cameroon referred to deported asylum seekers’ “lack of scruples.” 

At the same time, records showed ICE officials plotting to deter reporters seeking information about allegations of abuse. For example, in response to a reporter’s inquiry about alleged torture at the Winn Detention Facility in Louisiana, an ICE public affairs official recommended deflecting the request with its “standard language.”

Also telling, the groups say, is the information that the government has failed to provide. More than two years after numerous members of Congress urged President Joe Biden to halt “death flights,” and nearly two years after the filing of the FOIA request, the administration has not disclosed its policies determining how, whether and when it may send migrants back into areas of conflict. It remains unclear if such policies exist. The documents provided by the government instead show it defying court orders against deporting Black migrants, even though officials elsewhere express concern about unjust treatment. 

 “Project South strongly condemns the mistreatment of Black migrants and all migrants who have faced human rights abuses in DHS custody,” said Priyanka Bhatt, senior staff attorney at Project South. “The government's blatant disregard for human life and safety is apparent through its use of dangerous and life-threatening deportation flights. Further appalling is the government's inadequate responses to our requests asking them to provide information into these abuses including the 2020 ‘death flights’ to Cameroon and other African countries. We demand that these government agencies move forward with transparency, produce prompt and adequate responses, and deliver justice to all migrants impacted.” 

In April 2022, the Biden administration granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Cameroonian asylum seekers. Although the move was welcomed, advocates say it was a belated acknowledgment of the dangerous conditions that prompted opposition to the “death flights.” They also note that Black migrants continue to face abuse, discrimination and disproportionate harm from anti-immigrant policies, such as the COVID-era use of Title 42 to keep migrants out of the country. 

“Black migrants suffer unfair and cruel treatment by racist U.S. immigration policies when seeking safety from gang-related violence, political instability, and extreme disasters. For decades, they have been denied due process rights and endured immoral and inhumane treatment in violation of U.S. and international laws, exposing them to further abuse, discrimination and even death. We demand protection, transparency, and accountability from U.S. immigration officials who must honor our immigrant nation's values and treat Black migrants with dignity, respect, and equity," said Luz López, senior supervising attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Immigrant Justice Project.

Read the briefing guide here.


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