Cameroonian asylum seekers in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have accused the agency’s officers and private prison guards of using torture, violence and threats to force them to sign documents facilitating their deportation. If true, the actions violate state, federal and international laws.
The refugees, as mentioned in a November 5 report from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SLPC) and Freedom for Immigrants, claim that ICE officers and private prison guards at detainment facilities in Louisiana and Mississippi physically forced their fingerprints as signatures upon documents that they didn’t understand. They further allege that guards and officers used threats of prolonged detainment or abuse and housed them alongside federal prisoners.
“All of the complainants are seeking asylum in the U.S. and face life-threatening consequences if deported to Cameroon,” the SLPC and Freedom for Immigrants wrote of the accusers in their report.
One non-English-speaking refugee said that ICE officials and private guards demanded that he sign an English document that he didn’t understand. He claims that an ICE supervisor seized him by the throat. He alleges that, as he hid under the table, the people present dragged him out, removed his pants and underwear, leaving his genitals exposed, and bent his left arm in a painful position while forcing his right thumbprint onto the documents in the presence of the 10 people present.
“They don’t treat us like immigrants. They treat us like prisoners,” the man is reported to have said in the report. “My country Cameroon is in a civil war,” he continued. “I don’t know why they force us to go back to a country that is not stable right now. People die every day.”
Another 49-year-old detainee said detainees feared for their life after watching this man being physically forced to sign a document. “This is what will happen to you if I don’t sign,” a female guard allegedly told the 49-year-old accuser.
Another detainee said, “The three (guards) pressed me to the wall as I cried. One held my hand, the other pressed against my chest, and the third held onto my other hand and pressed my fingerprint to the paper. She told me that this was my custody review document for deportation. I couldn’t sleep for days because of the pain I was in.” She alleged that guards at the facility strip-searched them and made them squat naked within sight of federal prisoners, to search them for weapons.
The SLPC and Freedom for Immigrants argue that the incidents, if true, violate Louisiana state and federal law, the international Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment, which the U.S. has ratified, as well as ICE’s own policies within its 2011 Performance Based National Standards.
The accusers all fled a four-year ongoing conflict in the central African nation of Cameroon, in which over 3,000 people have been killed and half a million displaced, according to the United Nations.