Man making peace sign

The Columbus immigrant who is a key witness in a federal civil rights suit alleging excessive force by corrections officers at the notorious Butler County jail was indeed deported back to his native Africa even though a federal judge had ruled U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)to keep him in America.

Mory Keita, a 34-year-old long-time Columbus resident and father to a three-year-old daughter, had been detained at the ICE-contracted jail just north of Cincinnati and set to testify against corrections officers accused of beating and verbally abusing African and Muslim detainees. One allegation says a detainee in September was thrown down a stairs by a corrections officer who said, “I hope you die bitch.”

“Mory is a first-hand witness to two brutal assaults against other African men detained for ICE in the Butler County jail. It’s no wonder ICE wants to disappear and silence him,” says Ohio Immigrant Alliance director Lynn Tramonte who has an uncanny ability of getting information out of Ohio’s ICE-contracted jails.

Tramonte says ICE with help from the jail – run by Butler County Sheriff Richard Jones whose nickname is “Ohio’s mini-Trump” – had transferred Keita to an ICE-contracted airfield in Louisiana on December 8, the same day the lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.

However, attorneys C.K. Wang and Nazly Mamedova filed an emergency writ in federal court hours before Keita was to be on ICE’s plane to Guinea where he has no family or friends. A federal judge then ordered ICE to keep Keita in the US so he can provide testimony for the federal civil rights suit.

Even so, Tramonte says ICE may have defied the order. ICE is claiming it wasn’t aware of the judge’s order until Keita was in midflight.

Keita is now in Guinea where “looking and acting American” makes you an instant target. What’s more, his paperwork was apparently lost in transit and the Guinea government doesn’t know who he is exactly.  

“He was shackled from hands to waist to feet the entire plane ride, from Louisiana to Senegal, to different countries in Africa and back to Senegal twice, and then to Guinea,” Tramonte told the Free Press. “When he was in a car driving away from the airport the night of his deportation, the car was pulled over by a group of teenagers with guns and they were robbed. He didn’t have any money, but the family that was driving him paid so that they wouldn’t kidnap him.”

Keita was able to speak with Tramonte with a borrowed phone and he told her:

“When we got to Guinea it was a little bit dark and we got pulled over, there were a whole bunch of teenagers with guns and they were asking for everybody’s papers. I didn’t have a document, I tried to tell them, but they had guns and I was scared. They were speaking in French, I don’t speak French. I was thinking about all I went through before and my life passed through my eyes.

I think they were trying to kidnap us and get some money because they think that we just came from the United States and we have some kind of money. But I don’t have any money. When ICE dropped me off they didn’t give me anything. They didn’t even give me a penny. No ID, nothing.”

Keita is now in hiding.                                                                                                  

“It’s such an ugly, horrible, and completely unnecessary situation,” Tramonte said. “He should be back in Columbus with his daughter. He lived in the United States for 31 of his 34 years. ICE is a monstrous agency run by people who delight in human misery. There is no other way you could do that job. His dream is to come back one day so that his daughter doesn’t have to grow up without a dad, like he did.”

Seeking US citizenship requires an attorney, a lot of paperwork and filings, and also $795. It is not entirely clear why Keita did not succeed in winning citizenship, but his effort to do was complicated when in 2009 he was deported in absentia. Tramonte says they had found him an immigration lawyer in November.

“But she needs access to some of his immigration files and the government doesn’t give those over right away. She’s still waiting for that information,” said Tramonte.

Keita’s situation is just another example of ICE being rogue, lawless, abusive, unaccountable, and cruel, says Tramonte.

“You took a dad away from his kid. You took a witness away from enforcing justice. But you did not take Mory’s spirit, and you did not win converts to your warped and racist views,” said Tramonte. “In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Americans are tired of these abuses being carried out in our name, with our tax dollars. Change is coming, very soon.”