Columbus, OH – One year ago, two dozen Black Mauritanians were detained in Ohio immigration jails. They were refugees from the genocide and state-sponsored violence in Mauritania during the late 1980s/early 1990s. They had lived in the United States for decades, raising families, starting businesses, buying homes, and paying taxes.
They were working legally, with permission from the Bush and Obama governments. But under Trump, suddenly, they were being deported to a country where they had no one. A country that no longer considered them citizens, where they would be arrested, tortured and even, in some cases, enslaved. Due to Trump’s policy, these long-term Ohio residents became refugees once again, fleeing to third countries in search of safety.
Leaders including Ahmed Tidiane, Tafsir Mohamed, Hamidou Sy, Houleye Thiam, and Julie Nemecek began to organize a plan. They worked with Franklin Foer of The Atlantic to expose this tragedy. The Washington Post wrote a scathing editorial. Media in Ohio, across the U.S., and internationally began to report on the situation.
At a benefit concert this August, hosted by Just North United Church of Christ and Temple Israel in Columbus, Houleye Thiam, President of the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in U.S. said: “Dictators are weapons of mass destruction. Immigration is not always a choice. People don’t just pack up everything and leave family behind bc they’re feeling ‘adventurous.’ Mauritanians are fleeing something bigger than themselves.” Watch her entire speech here.
In the audience, among the many supporters, were Mauritanian men who had recently been released from immigration jail, along with their spouses and children. They were home.
At least one dozen people were deported to Mauritania since September of last year, including Cincinnati’s Issa Sao and Columbus’ Goura Ndiaye (shackled on a charter flight despite his necrotic hip). They and their families are living in a state of grief and suspended animation, hoping that one day they can be together in the United States.
However, thanks to the work of a dedicated team of attorneys and leaders, over a dozen of the Black Mauritanians who were detained by ICE in 2018 are now home in Ohio with their families. They include Amadou Sow and Mohamed Diaby of Cincinnati, among others.
“We believe that our consistent and successful legal advocacy has at least temporarily shifted ICE’s routine policy on detention and deportation of Black Mauritanians in Ohio. All our eligible clients in the United States have been released from detention, after filing petitions for habeas corpus alleging unconstitutional detention, and are reunited with their families and communities. While our released clients are breathing some sighs of relief, they don’t know for how long. We need to continue holding ICE accountable for its actions as we seek justice through the courts,” said Eugenio Mollo, Jr., Managing Attorney at Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE).
There are still some long-term U.S. residents in jail, and lawyers are working hard to fight their cases. There is also an uptick in individuals fleeing Mauritania and making the long, difficult journey through South and Central America to arrive at our border in hopes that the United States will protect them. Instead, our government is locking them up in jail.
The situation in Mauritania is not safe for Black Mauritanians today. Police violence, brutal killings, oppression of free speech, and ongoing instances of slavery and brutality continue. Ohio Immigrant Alliance has an outline of recent developments in Mauritania here.
Ahmed Tidiane, a leader with African Immigrant Relief (AIR), told the audience at Just North Church: “Most Mauritanians in the United States are not just here for opportunities, but endured suffering from their own country and fled oppressors. The United States of America must stop supporting dictators around the world. Supporting dictators leads to the oppression of people and when people are oppressed, they have no choice but to flee to free countries like the United States.”
Mauritanian asylum-seekers are currently being held in prisons in Louisiana, Texas, California, Colorado, Ohio, and New Jersey. They need safety and they need lawyers.
You can help by donating to the Black Mauritanian Legal Defense Fund at http://bit.ly/BlackMauritanianLegal and Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in US (email email@example.com or contact the organization on Facebook).
Rev. Eric Williams of the Just North Church in Columbus, said: “We were so pleased to have more than 220 people from the greater Columbus community, and fifty people from the Ghanaian Seventh Day Adventist Church, at our Concert for a Cause with Temple Israel. It’s clear that consciousness of the profound injustice being wrought on the Afro-Mauritanian Community is on the rise. It was a privilege and an honor to be part of the coming together of the Christian and Jewish faith communities in Columbus on behalf of our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
Julie Nemecek, an immigration lawyer in Columbus, added: ““This level of support is unprecedented. The Black Mauritanian community is finally getting the legal help it deserves. It’s important to keep the movement alive, not only to halt future deportations, but also to seek justice for those Black Mauritanians who were wrongfully deported.”
Download photos from “Concert for a Cause,” sponsored by Just North UCC and Temple Israel, here. Please see photo credits imbedded in file details.
Follow the Ohio Immigrant Alliance on Twitter @tramontela