Reports last winter revealed that while the Biden administration was internally warned that Haitian deportations under Stephen Miller’s anti-asylum policy could violate human rights and international refugee law, they continued into the thousands. But just a few months later, the administration would then also issue a memo reminding U.S. border officers that they have the discretion to exempt Ukrainians from the policy.
Cameroonian asylum-seeker Wilfred Tebah “doesn’t begrudge the U.S. for swiftly granting humanitarian protections” for families fleeing Russia’s brutal invasion, the Associated Press reports. He just seeks the same consideration for Black asylum-seekers who are also fleeing for their lives. “I will be held in prison, tortured, and even killed if I am deported,” he told the AP. “I’m very scared. As a human, my life matters too.”
The AP reports that Tebah is a leading member of the Cameroon American Council, which has been urging the Biden administration to grant temporary relief to Cameroonian immigrants already in the U.S. That call has been supported by leading lawmakers like Sen. Robert Menendez, who said that while he welcomed the recent designation of Afghanistan for Temporary Protected Status (TPS), he was “troubled” there haven’t been similar designations for Cameroon and Ethiopia, which are also facing humanitarian crises meriting relief.
“It is critical that TPS is not politicized to preference some countries over others,” Menendez said. “As I have said before, Black migrants are too often excluded when these important decisions are made.”
Not only are Black migrants too often excluded from these decisions, as the senator said, they’re also often singled out for abuses, with anti-Blackness deeply rooted in the U.S. immigration system. Cameroonian asylum-seekers have been abused before and during deportation flights by U.S. officials, including being unnecessarily subjected to a degrading full-body restraint. “Some of the documented cases may constitute cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, prohibited by the Convention Against Torture,” Human Rights Watch said in a February report.
That report corroborates Tebah’s fear of reprisal should he get deported. The report said that Cameroonian asylum-seekers deported by the U.S. between 2019 and Jan. 2021 faced abuses ranging from arbitrary arrest, extortion, and rape following their arrival to Cameroon. Tebah, who is currently living with relatives in Ohio and has had an asylum petition pending since 2019, told the AP that “only TPS for Cameroon will help us be taken out of that danger. It is very necessary.”
While Ukrainian families certainly have faced challenges while seeking asylum at the southern border, the disparate treatment is glaring. In one case, after a Ukrainian mom and her children were initially blocked by border officials last month, advocates and public pressure secured an exemption within a matter of days.
By comparison, NPR reports on a Haitian family that had to wait nearly four months for an exemption. It was a Herculean effort that required aid from “three doctors, a small team of lawyers, and multiple nonprofits.”
The report noted that ”it is rare for Haitian nationals to get Title 42 exemptions,” with U.S. officials approving just 21% of requests filed by legal advocacy organization Al Otro Lado. “Just taking the case of this family, I think you can see just how difficult it is for Haitians and for other individuals aside from the Ukrainians at this point in time to obtain an exemption from Title 42,” Center for Gender and Refugee Studies attorney Blaine Bookey said in the report. The organization had also aided the Ukrainian family initially blocked by U.S. border officials.
“Black pain and Black suffering do not get the same attention,” Cameroon American Council founder Sylvie Bello told the AP. “The same anti-Blackness that permeates American life also permeates American immigration policy.” Click here to take simple and quick action urging the Biden administration to designate Cameroon for protected status.
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