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Deportations to Mauritania: What You Need to Know

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The Trump Administration Is Deporting Refugees Back to Slavery

Historical Context

In Mauritania, the ruling Arab Moors view Black Mauritanians as property, members of the slave caste.  Black Mauritanians have been arrested for specious reasons; tortured and killed; expelled from the country; forced to work as slaves (even as children); purged from the nation’s census rolls; and had their land stolen.  Many are stateless: undocumented in their own country.  Political dissidence is grounds for arrest or worse.  Reports from the Washington Post, the Economist, Amnesty International USA, Human Rights Watch, and many others document these abuses.  

When Mauritanians fled to the United States and sought asylum in the late 1990s to early 2000s, many were granted the right to live here permanently, given the abuses they had suffered.  But others were denied asylum, because they missed the arbitrary, one-year filing deadline; were unable to clearly communicate their stories to an immigration judge; or were given bad legal advice.  

US Immigration Policy Toward Mauritania

During that period, thousands of Mauritanians immigrated to the United States, with many settling in Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio.  They built lives here, establishing families and businesses.  They found the United States so different from Mauritania–a place where they could live and work in freedom and personal safety.  While hundreds were eligible for deportation due to their failed asylum claims, the U.S. government knew it would be dangerous and cruel to send them back.  They were placed under monitoring (“orders of supervision”) by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), required to check-in at ICE offices on a regular basis, and given sanction to remain here indefinitely.  

All of this changed the day Trump took office.  With the goal of ramping up deportation numbers at any cost, the Trump Administration has turned the regular ICE check-in process into a “check-in for deportation.” After deporting four Mauritanians in FY2015, the US Government deported more than eighty-three in FY 2018.       

An individual can only be deported if he has a travel document that allows him to enter the country to which he is being deported. For years, the Mauritanian government has refused to issue travel documents to Black Mauritanians in the United States, because they do not consider them to be Mauritanian citizens.  However, fearing visa sanctions by the Trump Administration, Mauritania is now issuing temporary travel documents (laissez-passers) which allow these men and women to be deported.  However, the laissez-passers are not proof of citizenship, and they expire 120 days after issuance.  Once these individuals return to Mauritania, they become undocumented in their own country and subject to arrest for not having valid identity documents.    

“Jim” was deported from Columbus in 2018.  Arriving in Mauritania, he was labeled undocumented and arrested for not having an ID card.  In Columbus, he was a business owner and community leader. In Mauritania, Jim was only able to escape from detention by bribing a jailer. He fled to a third country, where he is now seeking asylum. According to noted human rights crusader Biram Dah Abeid and the Center for Investigative Reporting, others have met a similar fate.     

Mauritania Today

Up to 20% of all Mauritanians live in slavery in 2018.  This is the highest rate in the world according to the CIA World Factbook. The Trump Administration’s own State Department and CIA recognize that slavery of Black Mauritanians remains rampant, unprosecuted, and entrenched, and Mauritania “does not fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so.”  

Political dissidents continue to be arrested by the government.  In the summer of 2018, abolitionist leader Biram Dah Abeid came to the U.S. to spread the word about human rights abuses in his country. He advocated against deporting Mauritanians from the U.S. while he here. Biram was arrested by the Mauritanian government in August and remains in jail, an act that only corroborates his warnings.   

And, after allying with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s-1990s, the Mauritanian government is now dealing with the influence of Al-Qaeda there. In short, this nation is failing at multiple levels to protect the rights of all citizens and promote a free society.  In fact, it does even recognize many of the people born in this country as citizens with have human rights.

What To Do About It

The U.S. government needs to stop deportations to Mauritania immediately.  Sending people–especially Black Mauritanians considered to be of the “slave caste”–back to a country that will abuse them is unconscionable.  We should have the collective moral courage to work toward the liberation of oppressed people everywhere.

Mauritanians are being held in detention facilities across the United States, and hundreds are currently living here under final orders of deportation.  Recently, the Board of Immigration Appeals and Cleveland Immigration Court granted six emergency stays, temporarily halting the deportation of six men.  This shows that the concerns their lawyers have been raising are real. Until the U.S. stops deporting Mauritanians, the U.S. will continue to be complicit in this human rights tragedy.

See this compilation of news clips for more on this topic.