Things That Matter

In Bombshell Report, ICE Agents Are Accused of ‘Torturing’ African Asylum-Seekers to Get Them to Sign Their Own Deportation Documents

Photo: Bryan Cox/Getty Images

A bombshell report published in The Guardian alleges that ICE officers are using torture to force Cameroonian asylum seekers to sign their own deportation orders. The report paints an even starker picture of Immigration and Customs Enforcement–an agency that is already widely criticized as corrupt and inhumane.

The deportation documents the immigrants have been forced to sign are called the Stipulated Orders of Removal. The documents waive asylum seekers’ rights to further immigration hearings and mean they consent to being deported.

The asylum seekers allege that the torture in ICE custody consisted of choking, beating, pepper-spraying, breaking fingers, and threats on their lives.

“I refused to sign,” recounted one Cameroonian asylum-seeker to The Guardian. “[The ICE officer] pressed my neck into the floor. I said, ‘Please, I can’t breathe.’ I lost my blood circulation. Then they took me inside with my hands at my back where there were no cameras.”

He continued: “They put me on my knees where they were torturing me and they said they were going to kill me. They took my arm and twisted it. They were putting their feet on my neck…They did get my fingerprint on my deportation document and took my picture.” Other witnesses recount similar violent experiences.

Experts believe that the escalation of deportations is directly related to the upcoming election and the possibility that ICE might soon be operated under a different administration. The theory is that ICE is coercively deporting “key witnesses” in order to “silence survivors and absolve ICE of legal liability.”

“In late September, early October of this year, we began to receive calls on our hotline from Cameroonian and Congolese immigrants detained in Ice prisons across the country. And they were being subjected to threats of deportation, often accompanied by physical abuse,” said Christina Fialho, executive director of Freedom for Immigrants, to The Guardian.

Many of the Cameroonians who are in the U.S. to seek asylum have legitimate claims to danger back in their home countries. Many of these Cameroonians come from an English-speaking minority in Cameroon that are violently target by the government there–some have died. The violence has been condemned by The United Nations and Amnesty International.

As with many immigrant stories of people who are seeking asylum, these immigrants’ lives are in danger in their home country. They are coming to the United States for a better life. But instead, they are faced with the agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, whom they claim brutally mistreat them.

According to report, the U.S. is deporting entire airplanes full of asylum-seekers back to their home countries–deportations that have not been given due process and have been authorized under duress.

An ICE spokesperson contacted by The Guardian called the reports “sensationalist” and “unsubstantiated” while roundly refuting the claims. “Ice is firmly committed to the safety and welfare of all those in its custody. Ice provides safe, humane, and appropriate conditions of confinement for individuals detained in its custody,” she said.

Read the entire report here.

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

Things That Matter

This Inmate Firefighter Was Nearly Killed Battling California Blazes But Now He’s Facing Deportation

David McNew / Getty Images

Across the United States there are hundreds of thousands of undocumented Americans doing their part to protect and better the country. But far too often, our communities and our leaders don’t return the favor.

One man, a former inmate who was injured while battling California’s historic wildfires, was turned over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) after he was released from prison. Instead of being given a second chance, he faces likely deportation back to his native country of Laos – a place he hasn’t known since he was 4 years old.

A California man is facing deportation after nearly dying on the frontlines of the state’s wildfires.

A formerly incarcerated firefighter who helped battle California’s historic wildfires is now in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody, after the state notified the agency he was being released.

Bounchan Keola, 39, left his native Laos at the age of 4. His home is here in the United States – in San Leandro, CA to be exact. But he’s facing the ultimate punishment of being sent back to a place he knows nothing about.

“He made a mistake as a child. He came here impoverished and he was resettled as a refugee when he was 6,” said his San Francisco Asian Law Caucus attorney, Anoop Prasad. “And he literally risked his life. California didn’t have to call ICE to deport him…This case is extremely sad and unfortunate. Society has failed him again and again.” 

Even more shocking is that Keola only had 14 days left on his prison term when he was crushed by a tree while battling the Zogg Fire in early October. He was soon released from prison but then taken into immigration custody by ICE.

While fighting a wildfire, Keyla was severely injured.

Credit: David McNew / Getty Images

Although Keola was convicted of attempted second degree murder, not only has he served his term but he also gave back to the community as one of the thousands of inmate firefighters battling the state’s blazes. In fact, he received a shorter prison sentence because of the extra credit he earned for fighting fires. 

Incarcerated firefighters get two days credit off their sentence for every day they’re working and are paid up to $5 a day. It’s estimated they save the state tens of millions of dollars a year. 

But then Keola got injured.

While he was stationed in Redding, CA., a tree fell on him while he was clearing brush to stop the fire from spreading. He is still in excruciating pain, his lawyer said, and he has not received the proper medical attention.

Since his release from prison, Keola has been in ICE detention.

Just seven days after being injured and with seven days left in his prison term, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation notified ICE that his release would be coming up. On Oct. 16, the day Keola finished serving his prison sentence in Sacramento, ICE came to pick him up. On Oct. 29, an immigration judge ordered his removal to Laos, records show.

Since being picked up by ICE, Keola has been held at a detention facility in Kern County. Although he faces a deportation order, Laos doesn’t have a repatriation agreement with the U.S., which means he could end up staying in California. But his fate is still unclear. And only a pardon from Newsom, his attorneys said, would expunge his record and allow him to go home freely to his parents and sister. 

I just want to go home and give my mom and dad a hug,” Keola told The Guardian, the first news organization to report the story. “All I know is I’m American. I’ve never thought of myself not being a citizen. I’m just asking for that one, second chance.”

Keola’s fate is in the hands of Gov. Newsom as he awaits a potential pardon for his crime.

Gov. Newsom has painted himself as a champion of those who have been incarcerated and fought on the front lines to save California during the wildfire season. That’s why Keola and his attorney say that his fate is in the hands of the governor. He has asked for a pardon from his prison sentence, showing that he has changed for the better and that his service to the state battling wildfires should count for something.

On Sept. 11,  Newsom signed AB 2147, a bill that will allow formerly incarcerated people to be able to try to expunge their records and become professional firefighters. Inmates who have stood on the frontlines, battling historic fires should not be denied the right to later become a professional firefighter,” Newsom later said in a tweet after signing the bill. 

Yet Keola, an inmate fighting fire on the frontlines, hasn’t been given that chance. And although California is a sanctuary state, which forbids most cooperation with ICE, Keola was still handed over to the agency.

Newsom’s spokesperson, Jesse Melgar, said in a statement: “We are unable to discuss individual clemency applications, but can assure that each application receives careful and individualized consideration.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com

ICE Blames A “Technical Glitch” For Its Twitter Account Being Taken Down But What Really Happened?

Things That Matter

ICE Blames A “Technical Glitch” For Its Twitter Account Being Taken Down But What Really Happened?

Karla Ann Cote/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) is still doing damage control nearly a week after its Twitter account seemed to vanish into thin air. The agency has blamed a “technical glitch” for it’s account going empty, saying that it was an error on the backend and the result of a simple mistake.

But the fact that the agency has had to release two official statements about the outage, denying allegations of hackers or rogue employees, speaks to the amount of distrust between the American people and ICE as a government agency.

ICE’s Twitter account vanished due to a “technical glitch” but people are full of speculation.

The Twitter account belonging to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) vanished and reappeared last week and many on the Internet are eager to find out why. The disappearance of the account for the federal agency, which has been the subject of polarizing political debates, got lots of response really fast.

The agency released a statement blaming a change to the date of the agency’s creation. Twitter’s terms of service prohibit users under 13, and a Twitter spokesperson cited the policy in explaining the disappearance to NBC.

The bureau was created in 2003, so why ICE’s birthdate on Twitter changed is unclear, as is who altered it.

The outage didn’t last long – merely a few hours – and ICE was quick to deny any nefarious cause.

Shortly after 4 p.m., the owners of the @ICEgov account announced that the account was reinstated after Twitter assisted the organization in correcting a technical issue.

“No hackers, no rogue employees. We had a technical glitch and we appreciate the Twitter team’s help in bringing us back online. Stay tuned here for more great news about the work that the men and women of ICE do every day to protect the homeland.”

A Twitter spokesperson told the American Military News that the issue was regarding a date change within the Twitter settings.

“Twitter requires people using the service to be 13 years of age or older. If an account’s birthdate is changed to a day/month/year prior to that and our systems identify content posted by the account before they were 13 years old, they will be locked out of the account. The account has been reinstated.”

But not everyone was taking the explanation at face value.

Several Twitter users speculated why the account had been removed. Some linked the account suspension to the pending change of power in the White House from President Donald Trump to President-elect Joe Biden. With many guessing that the outage came as the agency was attempting to delete it’s cache of direct messages and files. Some called for Twitter to subpoena the account’s direct messages.

Meanwhile, plenty on Twitter celebrated even the temporary suspension of the agency’s account.

As soon as word started to spread that ICE was no longer on Twitter, many took to celebrate the news.

Others hoped it was a sign the entire agency – along with its Twitter – will soon be abolished.

Thanks to a growing movement from migrant advocates and activists, many have been calling for ICE to be abolished. The agency is another arm of the U.S. government that pays little attention to human rights of the very people it targets.

Back in August, lawyers alleged that Muslim detainees in Miami’s Krome Service Processing Center were being served pork, despite religious restrictions on their diets.

Additionally, a recent whistleblower complaint from a nurse in Georgia alleged that detainees in one facility were refused COVID-19 testing, and that there were an alarming number of hysterectomies performed on women in ICE custody. In September, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded to news of the complaint on Twitter, writing, “The fact of the matter is the United States has engaged in a program of mass human rights violations targeting immigrants … Our country must atone for it all.”

Notice any needed corrections? Please email us at corrections@wearemitu.com