You can listen to a recording of the call here
Earlier today, members of Pauline Binam’s family joined her lawyers, immigration justice advocates, and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) to discuss her case and the allegations of widespread abuse in ICE detention facilities. After congressional intervention and mass public outcry earlier this week, Pauline Binam was taken off an ICE deportation flight which would have kept her from speaking out about her traumatic experience in detention. Pauline is among the group of women who reported that doctors performed life-changing medical procedures on them, without their consent, while in U.S. immigration jail. Her near-deportation to Cameroon was ICE’s attempt to silence her, a Black immigrant woman subjected to horrific treatment at the hands of the U.S. government and private jail contractors.
Cameroonian women have been pleading with authorities for months for attention to the plight of detainees and the subhuman conditions they face, especially with a worldwide pandemic running rampant in ICE facilities. This is all the more timely as we mark National African Immigrant Heritage Month in September and as the Cameroonian American Council continues its series of #FreedomFriday conversations which began on Juneteenth.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), said, “First I would like to express my appreciation for everyone on the call speaking on the behalf of Pauline. I have not gotten the chance to meet her and up until now I have been calling her Jane Doe in order to protect her identity. We need to provide protection for the whistleblower, we need to keep her in our thoughts. We are a nation of laws but we are also a nation of immigrants. I have had the pleasure of visiting Cameroon. As for the African Americans who are here, we are descendants of slaves. I support HR-40 – Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African-Americans Act. With a passion for humanity and this woman, Rep. Pramila Jayapa and I got to work when we heard of the deportation of Pauline. It was hard to hear about Pauline. On the grounds of humanity and non-threat to national security, Pauline should be able to stay in this country. I know her attorney filed a motion to stay and has been working through the 11th circuit. Van Huynh has been trying to challenge the detention center that is contracted by the federal government. By Tuesday night we had written word that she would not be deported, but by Wednesday morning we were informed of a mistake and her transfer to the airport. It broke my heart and we immediately went to work with local authorities. Luckily the pleas were heard by the ICE officer in charge. We need to work to end and solve this humanitarian crisis. We are waiting for the DHS decision on the deportation.”
Nicole Binam, Pauline’s sister, said, “I’m Pauline’s older sister. She has been in detention for the past three years, facing deportation to a country she hasn’t been in since she was two. She has been with us her entire life in America. America’s her home. She grew up here. She went to school here. She had her daughter here. And her family’s here. To deport her to a country that’s not home, doesn’t make any sense to us. What Pauline has suffered through, has tremendously affected her mind, body, and soul. We need answers for that. Pauline’s safety and her well being is our top priority. We urge ICE to release her, so that she can get proper medical care, from doctors who are not under ICE’s agenda. She needs to be released back to her daughter and her family that misses her tremendously. She has missed birthdays, anniversaries, Christmases, and new births in the family. She needs to get mental healing from everything she has experienced in ICE’s custody. In our culture, there are a lot of things we need to go through: prayer and blessings and oils and she hasn’t been able to partake in that, because she has been detained. She has been defiled which has been even worse. I urge ICE to release my sister to the only home she knows, which is in Baltimore with her mother, sister, daughter- all those who support her and love her, and especially before her daughter’s birthday. If you want to do something good in her life, release her, so she can participate in this good milestone that’s coming, which is her daughter turning 12. We urge you again to please bring her home. Bring her home to safety, to love, to care.”
Van Huynh, Pauline’s attorney with GLAHR, said, “Currently, Pauline is in a detention center in Montgomery, Texas. I would like to thank the women who were able to give Pauline a platform to speak at the Irwin detention center. She has been in ICE’s custody since October 2017. She was later identified as one of the many women who were violated under the custody of ICE. In August 2019, Pauline underwent a procedure, D&C, in order to get rid of the cysts on her ovaries. When she woke up from the anesthesia, she was told by the doctor they took out her fallopian tube. She broke down crying when she told me over the phone. I have filed a motion to stay at home. But now it is up to ICE to either keep her or release her. We hope for her release without retaliation or intimidation. Thank you.”
Rev. Leeann Culbreath, South Georgia Immigrant Support Network & Episcopal priest who has known Pauline for years, “I met Pauline March of 2018 through a plexiglass window in the visitation room of the Irwin County detention center. She was on a referral list for a volunteer visitor from the humanitarian association I co-founded and co-lead, the South Georgia Immigrant Support Network. SGISN is an all volunteer group founded in 2017 that encourages hope and resilience through friendship for detained persons and their family. Pauline and I made a strong connection as we shared stories about our families and our faith. I heard about how she built a life as a student, a worker, and a mother here in the United States, the only country she has ever known. Whenever she talked about her daughter, her face filled with love and pride. The most important thing to her was being reunited with her daughter. Over the next two and a half years, we continued to visit and to write through all of the challenges of detention and her long separation from her daughter and gradually became very close friends. Because I’m clergy, we also talked about our shared Christian faith and prayed for each other daily. We prayed for strength during countless abuses and setbacks in her faith. Her immense love for her daughter kept her fighting everyday. I am confident upon release, she will work hard to build a new life with her daughter and her family. I have witnessed the oppression and the cruelty of detention. The complaint to the office of Inspector General filed on Monday by several human rights organizations, including my organization, describes the fundamentally inhumane system that disregards the constitutional right, human treatment, and due proccess that every human being on US soil is entitled to. Now during a global pandemic, Pauline faces the daily threat of COVID-19. Like other detained women, she has faced retaliations for speaking out publicly about the conditions inside during the pandemic. She frequently tells me how ICE has already taken so much from her: years with her daughter, holidays with her family, her general wellbeing, and possibly her child bearing options, and for what? Pauline has suffered immensely and must be released as soon as possible to her family before missing yet another one of her precious daughter’s birthdays and before her health is further harmed by COVID-19 and ICE’s abuse.”
Azadeh N. Shahshahani, Legal & Advocacy Director, Project South, said, “We have documented conditions at Irwin for many years. The treatment of immigrants at this prison has always been horrid. These new shocking revelations further highlight the extent of the egregious abuses at the facility. The fact that Black and brown immigrant women are held in an extremely vulnerable position at this prison where they have no control over their bodies and no say about what is done to them is sickening. Irwin should be shut down immediately and people should be freed. The United States Government as well as the private prison corporation running this prison should be held accountable.”
Sylvie Qwasinwi Ngassa Bello, Cameroon American Council (moderator), said, “Today, on this #FreedomFriday, during September our National African
Immigrant month, we’re here because Pauline Binam, our Cameroonian sister, a mother, a daughter, had her body violated by ICE while in detention. As Black women in America we know that this is not different from Pauline’s ancestors who were stolen from Cameroon and sold. Their bodies too were mutilated and violated. Black immigrants are constantly having their experiences erased, and anti-Blackness within the immigration system is not addressed consistently. Today we’re calling on everyone to get Pauline home. Get Pauline home to her daughter. To her family in Baltimore by Sep 30th, her daughter’s birthday.”
The press conference by the Cameroon American Council was co-hosted by America’s Voice and Families Belong Together.