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In the Spirit of Freedom Friday, Black Immigrant Leaders Discuss the Continued Detention of Black Immigrants During Unrest and a Pandemic

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A recording of the call is available here


Earlier today, Black immigrant leaders and experts gathered on a press call to speak on the Black immigrant experience and focus in specifically on their exposure to continued unjust detention of Black immigrants across the country. Facing a public health pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black communities and grappling with institutional racism, public safety reform and policing, black immigrant communities have to also face the continued attacks from the Trump administration and ICE, who continues to rely on xenophobic policies and enforcement. 

Desmond (last name redacted for his protection), former hunger striker at Louisiana’s Pine Prairie Immigration Detention and Ambassador for Cameroon American Council’s #AdvocateForDetainees, said:

After fleeing my life in Lebialem, Cameroon, where I was arrested and escaped jail, I traveled through various countries and faced some hard times like looking for places to stay, and finding money to provide food for myself. I arrived in the U.S. in August of 2019 and upon arrival, spent seven months in detention. I went through a lot of terrible conditions like no proper food, discrimination, and not good medical attention. I’m pleading to people to help my 40 brothers who protested on Juneteeth. Of the 40 of them, 10 are from my Lebialem area of Cameroon.

Please #FreeThemAll because this system is a business. Back home, I was a plumber and construction technician. Here in America, I want to be able to see my dreams come true, and with the help of others, go to school and continue on with my construction and plumbing dreams, along with any immigration assistance.

Jasson Vasser-Elong, poet and essayist of Cameroonian ancestry, (@jnvasser) said: 

I had come to learn that my Cameroonian ancestor was brought to this country in the 1800’s as a slave, a young woman who had been taken from her home, through Bimbia, a slave port off the coast of Limbe in Cameroon, to North Carolina. The human connection of membership and belonging had been taken from my ancestors, literally beaten from their backs. Now, the narrative is accepting our voices. We have an opportunity to heal, but only if those who hold the power understand that lives are at stake, that history is being written as we speak, and so let’s use our voices to advocate for the liberation for those in detention, for those whose lives have been lost to poverty, to those whose liberty is slipping away under the weight of COVID19. My aim is to reconnect with my African brothers and sisters to let them know that we are working to regain what was lost to the waves of the Atlantic, or to the fields of a plantation, or even to the homes of slave masters that refused to see people as valuable, not in a sense of being property, but for the sure fact that they are human beings.

Martha Nfonteh, RN, California-based Family member of Juneteenth Protestor and Covid-19 essential worker, said:

My brother is a kind-hearted and hardworking person and also a loving and caring father to his only daughter. He is an advocate for peace and for freedom of the oppressed. The latter is why he is here in the first place. He is now a prisoner for over 10 months for the sole crime of seeking protection from this country, which is recognized worldwide as the land of the free and is nothing short of appalling. I am a nurse. I risk my life and that of my household during these trying times so that I can help other Americans live. I risk the life of my family for Americans and America puts my brother’s life on the line. My brother is sick. He has asthma and needs proper care. But Let me ask you this; what good will the process be if my brother dies in detention? Give him a chance to live.

Aya Saed, Legal Fellow, Center for Constitutional Rights, said:

Through interviewing people in prisons and detention centers and through the work of the Cameroon American Council, we learned of Cameroonian immigrants who were stuck in detention during a time of great precarity and danger and who were protesting their conditions. I was introduced to two remarkable women who were part of the 140 Cameroonian protestors in March 2020 at Don Hutto detention center, Ndikum Keshia Angu Anjoh and Linda Chuo Fru. I learned about their story and became committed to learning more about the experience of Black immigrants in ICE detention. I am a Sudanese-American attorney, and have been passionate about re-framing the narrative around immigration. Many, when they think of immigrants, think almost only about the experience of South and Central American immigrants, but it does not tell the entire story. Cameroonians make up the overwhelming majority of African asylum seekers in Tapachula, Mexico where migrants are forced to stay in what are essentially open-air prisons. I think the ONLY call to action is the release of immigrants held in detention. Releases not only protect the people with the greatest vulnerability to serious illness and death from COVID-19, they also protect all those in custody or working in a prison, jail, or detention center, and reduce the burden on the surrounding region’s health care infrastructure.

Sylvie Qwasinwi Ngassa Bello, Founder, Cameroon American Council, (@CamAmerCouncil) said:

Today is Freedom Friday, and we remember  our ancestors were stolen from Bimbia in Limbe, Cameroon and sold to the Americas. Then on Juneteeth our Cameroonian/African ancestors were “freed” from slavery. Informally, slavery’s oppression continued in the USA in the form of Jim Crow, segregation, redlining, until today’s Black Lives Matter grievances. Present-day Cameroon faces 5 armed conflicts,  which all trace their roots to the white supremacist oppression of slavery and colonization. We join the Cameroon Juneteenth protestors of Pine Prairie Detention Center, to invoke our shared African ancestors, who were stolen from Cameroon and to reflect on themes of freedom for 10,000 Cameroonians facing detention, deportation and death in the U.S.-Mexico border. Please support our Juneteenth Commissary Fundraiser #FreeThemAll here.