Immigrants’ Rights Organizations Urge Release of Mauritanian Asylum Seekers Detained by ICE

Over 100 Mauritanian asylum seekers fleeing enslavement, forced statelessness, and ethnic cleansing are being detained solely based on their inability to pay $5,000 bond, lack access to language interpretation

July 20, 2023 1:00 pm

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LOS ANGELES — Immigrants’ rights organizations are calling for the immediate release of over 100 Mauritanian asylum seekers detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Desert View Annex facility in Adelanto, California.

In a letter sent to ICE’s Los Angeles Field Office Director Thomas Giles yesterday, the organizations express grave concerns regarding the detention of asylum seekers fleeing enslavement, forced statelessness, and ethnic cleansing and ICE’s blanket decision to set an arbitrary $5,000 bond on each asylum seeker, without regard for their ability to pay and without considering alternatives to detention.

The letter, sent jointly by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU Foundation of Southern California, Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Haitian Bridge Alliance, Immigrant Defenders Law Center, and Public Counsel, also highlights the absence of sufficient interpreters in immigration court and access to language services at the facility. These deficiencies, which Black asylum seekers in the U.S. are too often forced to deal with, could impede the ability of these individuals to adequately prepare and present their asylum cases, leading to unnecessary and prolonged detention.

The vast majority of the detained asylum seekers are Black Mauritanians who primarily speak Pulaar Mauritanian, Soninke, or Hassānīya. Because of racial persecution in Mauritania, many do not read or write in any language, as the above languages are forcibly prevented from being taught in schools in the country and most are not given the opportunity to attend school. These individuals were placed in removal proceedings without being provided credible fear interviews accompanied by adequate interpretation. Furthermore, due to lack of interpretation in their native languages, many individuals’ hearings have already been delayed. The government’s treatment of these Mauritanians highlights systemic flaws in immigration detention and courts, which especially disadvantage Black migrants, non-English speakers, and asylum seekers with limited resources.

The letter further calls for immediate release on parole, and urges the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to provide competent interpreters for immigration hearings, and allow the Mauritanian asylum seekers to pursue applications for asylum affirmatively.

Comments can be attributed as noted:

“ICE’s disregard for the well-being of Mauritanian asylum seekers is unacceptable,” said Michael Kaufman, Sullivan & Cromwell Access to Justice Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Southern California. “There is no justification for imprisoning these migrants or conditioning their release on an arbitrary bond amount, particularly given ICE’s failure to provide language assistance they need to present their cases effectively. ICE should release them immediately so they can pursue their cases in a humane and dignified manner.”

Guerline Jozef, the Executive Director of Haitian Bridge Alliance, said “the discrimination faced by Black migrants from Mauritania echoes a haunting truth, revealing the persistent stain of inequality within our nation. In a country that prides itself on upholding the rule of law and lectures other nations on respecting human rights, it is unconscionable that the rights of those seeking asylum continue to be violated. Our organization remains steadfast in our fight to dismantle the walls of prejudice and construct bridges of compassion. We recognize that the worth of every individual is sacred, irrespective of their race. Together with other organizations, we eagerly anticipate forging a future where every migrant finds solace in a society that warmly embraces them, cherishing their inherent worth and fostering inclusivity.”

On the detention of Mauritanian asylum seekers fleeing racial persecution, Director of Immigration and Social Services for the Mauritanian Network for Human Rights in the U.S. Zeinabou Sall said, “In the pursuit of freedom and dignity, when faced with the shackles of slavery, statelessness and ethnic cleansing, Black Mauritanians are seeking asylum, crossing borders to find refuge and embracing the arms of compassion and justice in a world that stands united against the chains of oppression. Instead of detaining these individuals, the United States must provide them with freedom and safety.”

“The federal government should be ashamed of how they are treating Black asylum seekers in Adelanto. Denying due process to migrants is both illegal and unacceptable. ImmDef attorneys met this week with individuals from the group who expressed frustration at the lack of proper interpreters in both the detention facility and the courtroom. They also conveyed their desperation and confusion about being held on arbitrary $5,000 bonds,” said Lindsay Toczylowski, Executive Director of Immigrant Defenders Law Center (ImmDef). “ICE must immediately release this group of Black Mauritanian asylum seekers and allow them to pursue their asylum claims without subjecting them to the cruel conditions they face while in ICE detention,” she continued.

“The detention of Mauritanians who recently arrived to the U.S. to seek asylum after fleeing horrific violence and persecution is not only immoral but inhumane. It goes against all religious values that uplift the humanity and dignity of each human being created in the image of God, CLUE demands the immediate release,” said Guillermo Torres, Director of Programming at CLUE.

“Detaining Black Mauritanian migrants who have fled egregious violence, including slavery, to seek safety in this country is unacceptable. In alliance with half a dozen civil and immigrants’ rights groups, we demand that ICE order the immediate release of Mauritanian migrants held at Desert View Annex, sparing them from further trauma caused by prolonged detention. These individuals face insurmountable obstacles in detention without language access and deserve the opportunity to pursue their asylum cases in the safety and with the support of community outside detention,” said Jana Whalley, Supervising Staff Attorney with Public Counsel.

The letter is here: https://www.aclu.org/documents/letter-to-ice-urging-release-of-mauritanian-asylum-seekers

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