Woman speaking into a megaphone

Pictured on the right is Ohio and Columbus immigration activist Houleye Thiam, President of the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US (MNHRUS). 

Sandwiched between the nation’s honoring of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on January 18 and the inauguration of President Biden on January 20, a deportation charter flight is scheduled to leave Florence (Arizona), for Mauritania on Tuesday. Flights to Haiti and Jamaica with others being deported are also scheduled.

These are some of the last acts of Trump’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) . For the Black Mauritanian, Haitian, and Jamaican communities and their families, it is deeply painful for these asylum-seekers who traveled so far to seek freedom and their families.

Before Trump, deportations to Mauritania “were rare”, says Houleye Thiam, president of the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US (MNHRUS), which is based in Columbus and Cincinnati. According to US Congresswoman Joyce Beatty, the largest Mauritanian community in the US is here in Central Ohio.

Thiam says Black Mauritanians are being deported to a country that does not recognize many of them as citizens. A country with an ingrained, racist-caste system that treats them worse than animals. A country that killed their family members, stole their cattle and land, and rigged their elections to keep the ruling minority in power. A country that continues to kill them today. 

Black Mauritanians aren’t leaving their homes, families, and lives to go on an adventure,” said Thiam.They are fleeing to survive, running from a country where Black people are oppressed, enslaved, denied citizenship, attacked, and killed simply for being Black. For generations, Black Mauritanians have been assaulted by the state, denied basic rights, tortured, and murdered. Our land was stolen and our family members were murdered. Before Trump came into office, deportations to Mauritania were rare, in recognition of these horrific conditions. Under Trump, however, our community was suddenly put at the top of the deportation list.”

If they are deported, Black Mauritanians will face possible arresttorture, and even death. Compared to the Obama Administration the Trump Administration more than doubled the number of deportations to Mauritania.

“This is the Trump Administration’s attempt to deport as many Black immigrants as possible before they lose a stranglehold on power,” said Guerline Jozef, president of the Haitian Bridge Alliance. “The day after our nation marks the memory of one of our greatest civil rights leaders, the Trump Administration is putting Black people in shackles. These flights should not happen during a global pandemic, and when most of the families deported have not been given a fair chance to apply for asylum.”

Jozef continued, “These deportations are the latest in a long history of intentional abuses against Black men, women, children and families by immigration authorities. We need an investigation into this system that allowed the Trump Administration to continue to inflict pain and trauma on Black immigrants seeking safety. We stand undeterred in the fight against racism and anti-blackness because Black lives matter no matter where we are born.” 

Trump’s ICE has broken and scattered the Mauritanian community in Ohio.

“The devastation in our Ohio community, around the country, and abroad is so raw. Many families have been torn apart, children and spouses left behind,” said Thiam of MNHRUS. “Many beloved members of our community fled to Canada to avoid being sent back to the hell they left decades ago. Others were deported, arrested, and tortured. Many now live in a third country with no documents, in dismal conditions, just trying to stay safe. It breaks my heart to know that the last act of this evil administration could be to deport even more of my countrymen.”

As reported in The Atlantic, Black Mauritanians were among the first communities to experience a radical change in immigration policy under the Trump Administration.

Suddenly, after decades of living in the U.S. with legal work permits, working and raising families, Black Mauritanians under Orders of Supervision were being arrested at regular ICE check-in meetings, thrown into subpar county jails, and deported – often in shackles, on lengthy and expensive charter flights. 

In an opinion piece titled, “ICE is sending Mauritanians back to modern-day slavery,” the Washington Post editorial board wrote: “Many of them left under threat of violence from the authorities. Heedless of that, and the grim fate that awaits them if they return, ICE is arresting and deporting them anyway. That is unconscionable.”

For four years, the Trump Administration has shown that the priority of deportation “trumps” all, even during a global pandemic and the U.S. government shutdown.

Writing about a $148,000 charter flight to Mauritania while federal employees were forced to work without pay during the shutdown in 2019, The Atlantic wrote

“It doesn’t take a bleeding-heart liberal to see the immorality of ICE’s focus on the Mauritanians. In a very different context, members of the right-wing Freedom Caucus in the House have enumerated the despicable qualities of the Mauritanian government. They urged the IMF to stop funding the Mauritanian government, which the conservatives accused of having a ‘heinous human rights record.’ Even the Trump Administration acknowledged this. Last November, it rewrote its trade agreement with Mauritania to punish the country for its continued practice of slavery. To return the Black Mauritanians to their native land is to place them in the arms of a government that has tortured and imprisoned its citizens for the color of their skin.

Despite this, and in full view of all the dangers ongoing Mauritania, the Trump Administration continued to deport Black Mauritanians and even fabricated “progress” on human rights in Mauritania in a 2019 State Department report.

In a statement regarding this, MNHRUS explained: “In the year 2019 Mauritania made very little progress, if any, toward ensuring and preserving human rights for all Mauritanians. In 2019 Mauritanians witnessed one of the most contested, non-transparent elections in Mauritanian history. After the 2019 elections, opposition leaders and prominent journalists were kidnapped – taken from their homes and arrested by the state police – and their families did not know of their whereabouts for days on end. Further, to stop demonstrations after the election, the Mauritanian authorities detained, without charge, dozens of opposition activists. Later they released most but sentenced many to prison terms. Most arrested activists were beaten and tortured in the most horrible ways.” 

Says Lynne Tramonte, director of the Ohio ImmigrantAlliance: “Over the past four years I have had the great honor of getting to know many Ohioans from Mauritania. Sadly, our relationships began in the darkest hours – their months in detention and fighting deportation. Many endured abusive treatment at the hands of racist correctional officers, attacks on their Islamic faith, separation from loved ones, loss of income, physically-excruciating deportations, and then arrest or exile yet again. Words cannot describe the cruelty involved in sending one last plane to this nation that denies Black people basic human rights, the day after MLK Day and one day before Joe Biden and Kamala Harris take office. This last deportation flight only expands the need for the next administration to reunite families and allow deported people to return to their homes in the US.” 

Read about policy changes the Biden-Harris Administration can make to return individuals who were deported here

Watch Episode 6 of Netflix’s “Living Undocumented,” featuring an Ohio family from Mauritania, here.

Follow the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US on Facebook and Twitter @MauritanianFor

Follow the Haitian Bridge Alliance on Facebook and Twitter @HaitianBridge

Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Facebook and Twitter @tramontela