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Cameroonian asylum seekers say ICE agents forced them to sign own deportation orders

The US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency continues to deport Cameroonian asylum seekers despite fears their lives could be at risk if forced to return. 



Chantal da Silva
Tuesday 10 November 2020 14:35 GMT
Refugees describe new life in Britain after resettlement

Cameroonian asylum seekers set to be deported by the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency on Tuesday say they were physically forced to sign off on their own deportation orders.

In a complaint filed by a coalition of immigration and human rights organizations, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Freedom for Immigrants and the Detention Watch Network, six Cameroonian asylum seekers allege that ICE agents physically forced or threatened them into signing off on their deportation orders, despite fears that their lives could be at risk if they are forced to return to Cameroon.

While all six asylum seekers are facing imminent deportations from the US, at least four could be deported as early as Tuesday morning or afternoon. 

Among them is an asylum seeker who says an ICE official placed their hand around their neck in attempt to coerce them to sign off on their deportation order with a fingerprint.

“I was sitting on [a] chair and the documents I was supposed to sign were on the table, in front of me,” the asylum seeker, identified only as BN, explained in the complaint.

“I refused and when they realized that I wasn't going to sign, they called over [an ICE supervisor] who lunged at me and put his hand on my neck," BN alleged. 

The asylum seeker said they tried to get away from the supervisor, sliding under the table to hide. However, they said they were forced out by other officers, who either intentionally or intentionally pulled the asylum seekers’ pants down in the process, exposing their genitals.

“There were many people there, and they pulled me from under the table, stripping off my pants and underwear. I was lying face down,” BN alleged. 

“They pressed my left arm until it hurt, while others tried to place my right-hand finger onto the paper. It was very painful,” they said. 

Not only was the experience painful, but the asylum seeker said it was also humiliating.

“During that time, the women officers were holding my feet. My genitals were completely naked and exposed. I was naked in front of many people, there were over 10 people there, including the women. I felt ashamed,” they said. 

Ultimately, BN said they were forced to sign off on the papers with a fingerprint, without being properly informed of what they were signing.

Speaking with The Independent, Sofia Casini, a director with Freedom for Immigrants, said she has heard a number of accounts like BN’s. 

While she said the allegations detailed in the complaint should be shocking, they are not new to immigration advocates and legal workers.

“I am always surprised to hear these accounts of torture and deprivation of justice,” she said. However, Casini said, “these aren’t new allegations."

Guatemalan asylum seekers arrive on an ICE deportation flight from Brownsville, Texas on August 29, 2019 to Guatemala City. Immigration advocates warn that a group of Cameroonian asylum seekers facing deportation were physically forced to sign their own deportation orders. (Getty Images)

Indeed, immigration advocates have repeatedly warned of ICE forcing asylum seekers to sign off on their own deportation orders, with some deportees alleging that they were never properly informed of what they were signing. 

“These are not isolated incidents; rather, the use of violent force to obtain signatures in violation of immigrants’ rights appears to be part of an ongoing pattern and practice,” advocacy groups wrote in their complaint. 

If forced to return home, Cameroonian asylum seekers fear their lives could be at risk, particularly amid reports that deportees repatriated last month are now missing. 

With some asylum seekers facing deportation being known as activists in Cameroon, they fear they will face retribution from government forces with a record of extrajudicial killings. 

In the complaint, one asylum seeker identified only as CM, said they warned ICE agents that signing their deportation order would be “signing [their] death”. 

In the end, they said they were still physically forced to sign off on the documents. 

""A security officer held onto my whole right arm [and] struggled to open my hand. It was very painful in the handcuff due to all the stress they were placing on that hand, as well as on my right arm," the asylum seeker said. “I was crying and saying they were taking me to my death.”

Asked to respond to the allegations in the complaint, an ICE spokesperson said the agency was unable to respond to pending litigation.

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