Immigration Justice Is Black Justice
By Aditi Mittal
*Note of caution: This post contains graphic content regarding sexual violence.
Last month, a crowd rallied outside the White House. Their chants and signs directed a powerful message toward the Biden administration: #TPS4Cameroon.
This rally occurred on the Black Immigrant Advocacy Day of Action during Black History Month 2022. Although the culture of white supremacy in which we reside consistently and willfully ignores the lived realities of Black immigrants, these stories are central to the history and legacy of Black Americans in our country. That’s why — on this day of action — civil and human rights groups across the nation called for the recognition and support of the Black immigrants who face disproportionate harm at the hands of our criminal-legal and immigration systems.
— The Leadership Conference (@civilrightsorg) February 17, 2022
The U.S. immigration system is not immune to the systemic racism that pervades all our country’s institutions. Anti-Blackness actively works to suppress Black voices and make Black bodies invisible, especially the Black immigrants who find themselves navigating the courtrooms and detention centers of an inherently broken system. This erasure of the grave experiences of Black immigrants can be seen in the Biden administration’s treatment of Haitian, Mauritanian, and Cameroonian immigrants.
Last year, the Biden administration deported thousands of Haitian migrants, including families, back to the dire conditions in their home country. Many of these migrants suffered abuse from border patrol officers before they were ultimately expelled to Haiti, which has been experiencing severe civil and political unrest, economic turmoil, and widespread violence that occurs with impunity. These deportations continue even today, along with the deportations of Cameroonian and Mauritanian migrants to dire in-country conditions like violent armed conflict and modern-day slavery, respectively.
Although the Biden administration redesignated Haiti and South Sudan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS) and designated TPS for Sudan, it has yet to designate Mauritania and Cameroon for TPS despite the dangerous conditions in these predominantly Black countries — conditions that are comparable to those in other TPS-designated countries (e.g., Venezuela, Syria, and Myanmar). The practice of slavery remains ubiquitous in Mauritania, especially among racial and ethnic lines, and the country’s government continuously denies its existence. The government also engages in human rights abuses, such as arbitrary arrests and torture against political opponents, and it has suppressed freedom of expression and freedom of press. The frequent flooding in the country has also displaced tens of thousands of Mauritanians as well as exacerbated food insecurity and poverty among the population.
The extraordinary conditions in Cameroon similarly elicit significant concern. The violent armed conflicts between the government, Boko Haram, and Anglophone separatists affect several regions of the country, and they have caused the deaths, kidnappings, and internal displacement of hundreds of thousands of Cameroonians. The Cameroonian security forces perpetuate sexual violence, extrajudicial killings, torture, forced disappearances, and the recruitment of child soldiers; they arrest individuals and organizations that criticize the government, thus suppressing freedom of expression and association. These political circumstances combine with the recurrent flooding, droughts, and epidemics of infectious disease to create life-threatening conditions in the country.
Despite these dangers, the United States deported many Cameroonian asylum seekers between 2019 and 2021. A recent Human Rights Watch report details the human rights violations suffered by these Cameroonian migrants upon their return to harm. A Cameroonian woman, for example, describes the treatment she received in detention: “I was well [seriously] beaten… Every two days… they were using ropes, [rubber] tubes, their boots, military belts… They hit me all over my body… After I’d been there like a week and some days… [some officers] came and… covered my face with a cloth. I heard voices, I don’t know if they were two or three… [They took me] in another room… I was raped.”
The Biden administration’s delayed response to these worsening country conditions highlights the historical disregard for the lives of Black immigrants in the United States and reflects the shameful legacy of our country’s entrenched institutions of racism and xenophobia. Failure to designate Mauritania and Cameroon for TPS means that Cameroonians and Mauritanians living in the United States may, at any time, be deported back to extreme danger in their countries of origin. The swift and rightful designation of TPS for Ukraine, less than a week after the country’s invasion by Russia and Belarus, demonstrates how urgent TPS designations can make a world of difference during a burgeoning crisis.
These realities demonstrate that we must expose and eradicate discriminatory U.S. policies and laws. We must fight for justice for Black immigrants. We must protect the fundamental human dignity of Black immigrants. And we must continue to push the Biden administration to immediately designate Mauritania and Cameroon for TPS.
Aditi Mittal is a spring 2022 undergraduate intern at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.