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TUES PRESS CALL to Decry Deportations of Mauritanians Facing Slavery, Arrest of Internationally-Acclaimed Abolitionist Biram Dah Abeid

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Tuesday, August 14

12:30pm eastern

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Columbus, OH —  An article in The Atlantic is shining a spotlight on the Trump Administration’s efforts to ramp up deportations of long-settled U.S. residents from Mauritania, back to a country where they are likely to face arrest, torture, and slavery.  Danae King’s follow-up piece in the Columbus Dispatch provides even more detail about the tragedies Mauritanian Americans face if deported to a country that doesn’t even recognize them as citizens.  

Last week, anti-slavery leader Biram Dah Abeid was arrested by the Mauritanian government.  His arrest and detention only bolsters the fears these men and women have been voicing for years–fears about what would happen to them if returned to a country that doesn’t even recognize them as citizens.  

With deportation imminent for a number of Mauritanians in Ohio, and Abeid still in detention back home, experts on the Mauritanian government’s failure to protect certain certain citizens from slavery will participate in a press call with community leaders and representatives of families facing deportation on Tuesday, August 14, at noon eastern.

WHAT: Conference call with reporters to decry the arrest of anti-slavery leader Biram Dah Abeid and the pending deportations of Mauritanians at risk of slavery and exploitation

WHO:  Marvin Kumetat, U.S. Program Coordinator, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO)

Julie Nemecek, Columbus attorney with clients facing imminent deportation to Mauritania

“Jim,” Mauritanian man deported by Trump Administration and living in exile

Ahmed Tidiane, community leader in Columbus and associate of Biram Dah Abeid

Eboni Thomas, wife of an Ohio man facing imminent deportation to Mauritania

Lynn Tramonte, Deportation Defense Coordinator at America’s Voice will moderate the call

WHEN:  Tuesday, August 14th, 12:30pm eastern



Slavery, abuse, and exploitation remain prevalent in Mauritania today, with the government seemingly unwilling to enforce the law and protect its most vulnerable citizens.  A recent report from Amnesty International states:

Amnesty International has found that police, prosecutors and the judiciary failed to respond adequately to reported cases of exploitation, to identify victims or punish suspected perpetrators. In 2016, only two individuals were sentenced by the country’s anti-slavery courts, despite them receiving 47 cases for investigation involving 53 suspects. The report reveals that discriminatory practices particularly affect members of the Haratines and Afro-Mauritanian communities.

Last week, prominent anti-slavery leader and political candidate Biram Dah Abeid was once again arrested by the government in Mauritania, for specious reasons.  Abeid’s activism on behalf of black Mauritanians at risk of slavery has earned him awards from the United Nations, and persecution from the government of his own country.  

Abeid’s arrest followed the publication of a cover story in The Atlantic magazine, explaining that, under the Trump Administration, Mauritanians are increasingly facing deportation despite their clearly legitimate fears of torture and abuse.  While only four people were deported to Mauritania in FY 2015, the number has been increasing since Trump took office and right now, around 10 Mauritanians are detained in Ohio jails awaiting removal.  An affidavit from Mr. Abeid gives further details about the horrors Mauritanians are facing after deportation.

Reporter Franklin Foer with The Atlantic writes:

Imagine: You fled from a government militia intent on murdering you; swam across a river with the uncertain hope of sanctuary on the far bank; had the dawning realization that you could never return to your village, because it had been torched; and heard pervasive rumors of former neighbors being raped and enslaved. Imagine that, following all this, you then found yourself in New York City, with travel documents that were unreliable at best.

This is the shared narrative of thousands of emigrants from the West African nation of Mauritania. The country is ruled by Arabs, but these refugees were members of a black subpopulation that speaks its own languages. In 1989, in a fit of nationalism, the Mauritanian government came to consider these differences capital offenses. It arrested, tortured, and violently expelled many black citizens. The country forcibly displaced more than 70,000 of them and rescinded their citizenship. Those who remained behind fared no better. Approximately 43,000 black Mauritanians are now enslaved—by percentage, one of the largest enslaved populations in the world….

Over time, as the new arrivals gave birth to American citizens and became fans of the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Cleveland Cavaliers, they mentally buried the fact that their presence in America had never been fully sanctioned. When they had arrived in New York, many of them had paid an English-speaking compatriot to fill out their application for asylum. But instead of recording their individual stories in specific detail, the man simply cut and pasted together generic narratives. (It is not uncommon for new arrivals to the United States, desperate and naive, to fall prey to such scams.) A year or two after the refugees arrived in the country, judges reviewed their cases and, noticing the suspicious repetitions, accused a number of them of fraud and ordered them deported.

But those deportation orders never amounted to more than paper pronouncements. Where would Immigration and Customs Enforcement even send them? The Mauritanian government had erased the refugees from its databases and refused to issue them travel documents. It had no interest in taking back the villagers it had so violently removed. So ICE let their cases slide. They were required to regularly report to the agency’s local office and to maintain a record of letter-perfect compliance with the law. But as the years passed, the threat of deportation seemed ever less ominous.

Then came the election of Donald Trump. Suddenly, in the warehouses where many of the Mauritanians worked, white colleagues took them aside and warned them that their lives were likely to get worse. The early days of the administration gave substance to these cautions. The first thing to change was the frequency of their summonses to ice. During the Obama administration, many of the Mauritanians had been required to “check in” about once a year. Abruptly, ICE instructed them to appear more often, some of them every month. ice officers began visiting their homes on occasion. Like the cable company, they would provide a six-hour window during which to expect a visit—a requirement that meant days off from work and disrupted life routines. The Mauritanians say that when they met with ice, they were told the U.S. had finally persuaded their government to readmit them—a small part of a global push by the State Department to remove any diplomatic obstacles to deportation.

Fear is a contagion that spreads quickly. One ICE officer warned some Mauritanians sympathetically, “It’s not a matter of if you’ll be deported, but when.” Another flatly said, “My job is to get you to leave this country.” At meetings, officers would insist that the immigrants go to the Mauritanian consulate and apply for passports to return to the very country whose government had attempted to murder them.

As a companion to the article, The Atlantic also released a short documentary, “Fear and Anxiety at Refugee Road.” The video profiles one of the roughly 3,000 Mauritanian immigrants in Columbus, many of whom are also facing deportation under the new U.S. administration.

For more information, read “Area’s undocumented immigrants from Mauritania fearful of deportation,” by Danae King in the Columbus Dispatch.