An inmate holding a sign saying The Anguish we are subjected to is too much for us

Pine Prairie, LA - Unless something changes very soon, an Ohio military family fears their family member Wilfred could be deported to Cameroon, the country he fled that is embroiled in armed ethnic conflict, and killed. The Cameroon American Council and its #AdvocateforDetainees program is calling on all people of good will to act now and #HelpSoldierAcha reunite with his cousin and save Wilfred’s life. 

In a letter about Wilfred to the Immigration Judge, Specialist Acha wrote: “[Wilfred and I] grew up together and went to the same school together right up to college, and he was a true good leader to look up to. He is hard working. Tebah Wilfred Tebah is respectful, fearful, and above all morally guided. He is a good man and will obey the laws, orders and policies as instructed.” 

Still, Wilfred’s release continues to be denied by ICE and a Louisiana immigration judge. Join us in calling on Congress to reunite military families with loved ones in ICE detention, including this one. Please #HelpSoldierAcha by making calls, emails and tweets via our toolkit:

Yasser Masango, a U.S. military combat veteran and Cameroonian-American leader, said: "It's one thing to go to war. It is another thing to wage a war on two fronts. This is exactly what happens to military members who deploy while their family members are detained in immigration detention centers. In the age of Black Lives Matter, we must therefore ask ourselves as Americans what we are willing to sacrifice for the immigrant soldiers and their families who sacrifice for us." Masango served in the U.S. Army from 2002-2018.

Ravi Ragbir, Executive Director, New Sanctuary Coalition, said: “We stand with the Cameroonian community, not only Wilfred, but all those detained. We will continue to fight to ensure their release. Our faith says we should be welcoming to all.”

Alfred Aboya, International Basketball Coach and Ambassador of CAC's #AdvocateForDetainees, said: “I have been connected to the Cameroon American Council for the last 10 years and this moment of racial reckoning is the most consequential and should apply to Blacks in detention. So, I am calling on fellow athletes, but especially Cameroonian athletes in the diaspora to join me and #AdvocateForDetainees like Wilfred and all Cameroonians in detention."

Acha Mbah is Wilfred’s cousin, like a brother to him, and his sponsor. He is also  a soldier in the U.S. Army based in Ohio. Acha has contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) repeatedly asking for Wilfred’s release, as he and the Batibo community are ready to receive and support Wilfred in Ohio. Acha is being deployed overseas imminently.

Wilfred was born in Bessi village in Batibo, Cameroon in 1994. In March 2019, he fled Cameroon due to the five ongoing armed conflicts. He trekked across eight countries between Ecuador and the United States, and crossed the US-Mexico border at Calexico, California in August 2019. Wilfred has now been detained at Pine Prairie ICE Processing Center in Louisiana for almost a year, and requested asylum before Judge Scott Laragy in the Oakdale Immigration Court. 

The Oakdale court is notorious for having one of the lowest asylum grant rates in the country. Judge Laragy has a 14% grant rate, compared to a 31% national average in FY 2019 according to TRAC.

Wilfred’s application for asylum was denied by Laragy. In a hand-written note, detainees from Pine Prairie bravely called out Judge Laragy’s blatant racism, stating: 

“[Scott Laragy] uses unguarded languages off record asking applicants to shut up, warn applicants in court or forced you (us) to sign a voluntary deportation without hearing your case. He does all these off record to cover up traces of any appeal … [he] often switch off audio records during hearing when he is going against the rule of law … [he] desmisses almost all the evidence presented by us before him … despite the country report of Cameroon. Forcefully asking arriving aliens to accept voluntary deportation even without hearing the applicant claim. He also insist to judge an applicant who is under deplorable health condition just to make sure he frustrate you and send you back to your country to be killed.”

The men detained at Pine Prairie recorded a video protest detailing the abuse they face there and launched a hunger strike in February, for which they were punished with solitary confinement. Having fled horrific violence and abuse, these men have been denied parole repeatedly and left to despair in jail. 

Sylvie Qwasinwi Ngassa Bello, Founder of the Cameroon American Council, said: "We are resolved to #HelpSoldierAcha because his brother Wilfred and 40 Cameroonians protested anti-blackness on Juneteenth by invoking their ancestors who were stolen from the shores of Bimbia in Limbe, Cameroon and sold to the Americas. If they can mount a resistance inside a detention facility during a pandemic, we should be inspired do much more on the outside for their release."

Currently without a lawyer, Wilfred has submitted a humanitarian parole request and a separate Fraihat request to his deportation officer (Balvin G. Dunn), supervisory deportation officer, and Field Office director. Today, the parole request was denied. He is medically vulnerable to COVID-19 due to his gastric ulcers. On April 22, Wilfred “began experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain so severe it felt like a heart attack.” The nurse at Pine Prairie refused to test him for COVID, gave him ibuprofen, and he was sent to a solitary “quarantine” area. He remains very sick to this day. 

In April, Wilfred told Business Insider that “It’s like we are in a lion’s den here, surrounded by lions … I’m scared I will die here.”

Read more about the conditions at Pine Prairie here. Follow the Cameroon American Council on Twitter @CamAmerCouncil.