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They’re Going For It: Despite Grave Risk of Slavery if Sent Back, Trump’s ICE Continues to Deport Black Mauritanians

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ABC 6 in Columbus is out with a powerful piece on the human rights atrocity our government is committing by deporting Mauritanians who have lived in the U.S. for decades to a country where they will be arrested and enslaved.  

“It sounds unbelievable, but it is true,” said Lynn Tramonte, Deportation Defense Coordinator with America’s Voice.  “Our government is deporting people into slavery. That’s how craven deportation policy has become under Trump.”

Black Mauritanians are being deported to a country that doesn’t even consider them to be citizens, and has the highest rate of slavery worldwide according to the CIA World Handbook.  Currently, around twenty to twenty-five Mauritanians are being held in detention facilities across Ohio, and some have been moved to Louisiana (and soon Arizona) in preparation for their removal.  It is unknown how many are currently detained nationwide.

Consider the following facts:

20% of the population in Mauritania lives in slavery today.  Slaves are primarily Black.

The current US government recognizes that slavery and trafficking are rampant in Mauritania.

  • The 2018 CIA World Factbook for Mauritiana says: “Although Mauritania abolished slavery in 1981 (the last country in the world to do so) and made it a criminal offense in 2007, the millenniums-old practice persists largely because anti-slavery laws are rarely enforced and the custom is so ingrained.”
  • The country is also strongly failing to combat human trafficking.  Again, from the 2018 CIA World Factbook for Mauritania: “Mauritania does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts were negligible; one slavery case identified by an NGO was investigated, but no prosecutions or convictions were made, including among the 4,000 child labor cases NGOs referred to the police.”
  • The U.S. State Department and First Lady Melania Trump recently recognized L’Malouma Said as one of ten “International Women of Courage” for her ongoing work to end slavery in Mauritania.

Instead of enforcing its anti-slavery law, the Mauritanian government has repeatedly arrested anti-slavery activists, including the arrest just last week of internationally-acclaimed abolitionist Biram Dah Abeid.  

Abeid has been not only a vocal advocate for abolishing slavery in his native country, but he has also called on the U.S. government to stop deporting his countrymen into certain slavery (affidavit filed with Immigration and Customs Enforcement on behalf of several Mauritanians facing deportation here).

Not only do these men and women face slavery if deported, they will be considered stateless by their own government.  This makes them even more vulnerable to exploitation, unable to travel within their country and carry out basic transactions.  Deportees from the United States have been arrested for not having the identity documents that the Mauritanian government refuses to provide them.

Since the Mauritanian government does not consider them to be citizens, it is not issuing these men and women Mauritanian passports.  Without that, commercial airlines are refusing to facilitate the deportations.  So the U.S. government has strong-armed Mauritania into creating a temporary travel document it hopes will suffice, and has even gone to the extreme of chartering expensive flights to this African nation.

Two men facing deportation from Cincinnati, Ousmane Sy and Abou Diallo, were recently moved from the Butler County Jail in Ohio to Louisiana, and are scheduled to be transferred again to Arizona, in preparation for a charter flight to Mauritania next week.

The Trump policy is a dramatic departure from prior administrations.  Only four people were deported to Mauritania in FY 2015.  This year, several have already been deported and twenty to twenty five black Mauritanians are currently housed in Ohio jails awaiting a similar fate.  At least 200 Mauritanians in the U.S. are facing deportation to a country that will enslave them.

The deportations come after these men and women have lived in the United States for decades, putting down roots and building families and businesses.  The Mauritanians’ contributions to America are clear in this powerful documentary from The Atlantic and these articles from The Atlantic and the Columbus Dispatch.  

As Jim, a recent Mauritanian deportee now living in exile in a third country, told ABC 6: “I came to the United States with ten dollars in my pocket.  I didn’t speak no English, I just tried to work my way … and I had my dream, my American dream.”  After arriving in 2001, Jim opened up an auto body shop in Columbus in 2009, which was thriving until he was deported in 2018.  As reporter Seema Iyer said, Jim still considers Columbus his home and will never give up on finding a way to return. “Thank you America, for everything.  What has happened is not the view of the majority of people,” Jim said in a phone interview.

Julie Nemecek, a Columbus immigration lawyer who has helped bring this human rights crisis to light, said: “The Trump administration is engaging in and facilitating ethnic cleansing by sending Mauritanians back to a country that will enslave and persecute them. After the U.S. allowed Mauritanians to stay and apply for work visas, many lived and worked here lawfully for over 10 years. When Donald Trump took office he threatened visa sanctions and Mauritania responded by implementing a temporary travel pass – a ‘laissez-passer’- to allow a deportee to return to the country despite not being recognized as a citizen. Currently, there are over 200 Black Mauritanians in Ohio who could be deported at any time. This week, I met with 12 detainees in Butler County Jail who face the threat of deportation next week. We are urging ICE to stop deporting Mauritanians back to slavery.  And we are urging the Mauritanian government to free Biram Dah Abeid.”