• Lynn Tramonte

Federal Workers Struggle Without Pay, While ICE Charters a $148,000 Plane to Deport Men to Torture

Updated: Jan 9, 2019

An Obscene and Immoral Use of Government Money

Florence, AZ – Federal workers may not be getting paid during the government shutdown, but the ICE deportation machine continues its grind. In Arizona, ICE officials are preparing a charter flight to Africa at the cost of $148,000--all to deport a handful of people, possibly as few as nine. The charter may leave Arizona tonight or sometime tomorrow.

UPDATE: Franklin Foer of The Atlantic wrote about this topic here.

But the simple financial idiocy of this move is not the only thing that matters. More important are the lives of the charter plane’s intended passengers. At least four Mauritanian men from Ohio were transferred--in shackles--from Ohio jails, first to Louisiana and then to Arizona in order to be put on this plane. They have American children, wives, jobs, and homes. They fled Mauritanian genocide decades ago. And now, if they are deported, they are likely to be arrested and tortured just like so many others have been in recent months.


As Amadou Sow told NBC News before he was transferred out of Ohio: “We’re just scared. As soon as I get [to Mauritania] I believe something is going to happen. I don’t know what. I might be in jail. I might be killed."


Sow has reason to be afraid. Reports from Thomson Reuters and Reveal News with The Center for Investigative Reporting document that individuals deported from the U.S. to Mauritania are regularly being arrested, tortured, and held in jails there, until they are able to pay a bribe and escape. Most of them immediately flee to other countries, refugees once again.


As Lisa Riordan Seville pointed out in her piece, “The State Department has documented myriad human rights violations toward black Mauritanians. In November, the Trump administration also terminated trade benefits with Mauritania for its insufficient progress in eradicating the 'scourge of hereditary slavery.'"


These post-deportation arrests and detentions were also documented by Biram Dah Abeid in an affidavit filed with the U.S. Government last year. Abeid was since arrested by the Mauritanian government and held in jail for five months, only gaining freedom in the waning hours of 2018.


In 2018, six conservative Republicans urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to cease funding for Mauritania. CAJ News Africa wrote about the scathing letter they sent to IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde: “Gone is the diplomatic waffle of politics, replaced by a condemnation of President Mohamed Aziz that goes beyond even the tweets of Mr Trump, accusing Mauritania and its government of theft, slavery, corruption and a ‘heinous human rights record."


In the letter, Representatives Mark Meadows, Thomas Garrett, Jeff Duncan, Gus Bilirakis, Lee Zeldin, and Scott Perry argued that IMF funds would not be used to benefit the poor in that country, as intended, but to further the Mauritanian president’s record of corruption, repression, and torture.


Still, the Trump Administration continues to deport people to this nation, turning a blind eye on what awaits them when the plane touches ground.


For now, though, at least two seats on that $148,000 charter plane will be empty. Over the weekend, the families of Amadou Sow of Cincinnati and Goura Ndiaye of Columbus received the news they had been praying for. Their husbands/fathers received a temporary stay of deportation from the Board of Immigration Appeals, giving the court more time to decide whether to reopen their deportation cases. The stays mean that ICE cannot deport them until the court makes another ruling.


In relief Awa Harouna, daughter of Amadou Sow, said: "I can’t even begin to describe it. It’s like I can finally breathe again."


Two other men, however, have not been as lucky. Oumar Thiam of Cincinnati and another Mauritanian American from Columbus are still waiting on decisions from the courts regarding their motions. We fear they may be deported without an answer.


Sow and Ndiaye’s lawyer, Alexandria Lubans-Otto, said: “These men are not a priority for ICE and during a partial government shutdown, with limited funds, spending this much money to fly them back to a nation where they face displacement, slavery, detention or death makes no sense, on an economic level as well as on a humanitarian level.”

“The Trump Administration has ample evidence to indicate that deporting Black Mauritanians back to the nation that expelled them is putting their lives in grave danger. Yet, the deportation machine continues to crank on,” said Lynn Tramonte, Director of the Ohio Immigrant Alliance.
“The Trump Administration’s own U.S. Trade Representative, State Department, CIA, and six of the most conservative members of Congress have issued warnings about human rights atrocities committed by the Mauritanian government--practices directed at the very group of individuals being deported today.
“This $148,000 charter plane is an obscene use of money at a time when federal workers are struggling to pay their bills. It is also immoral to deport these men to a country where they will be arrested, abused, and forced to flee again.”

For more on these issues, read this short overview and this outline of recent political events in Mauritania from the Ohio Immigrant Alliance.


WHAT YOU CAN DO: African Immigrant Relief, the Ohio Immigrant Alliance, and Cleveland Jobs With Justice are raising money for the legal defense of Black Mauritanians at risk of deportation and abuse. Please donate here, or text to donate ATHOME to 44321.