“We are in the initial stages of the legislative process; in consultation with Legislative Counsel,” Anderson said. The legislation, which would protect Cameroonian immigrants to the United States for an undetermined period of time, is being written after lobbying led by the Cameroon American Council advocacy group and its CEO Sylvie Bello, Anderson added.
Nationals of countries on the Temporary Protected Status list cannot be deported on the basis of their immigration status, are allowed to work in the U.S., and are eligible to travel freely abroad. If TPS legislation for Cameroon is passed, it would be the fourth African country with such a designation, after Sudan, Somalia, and South Sudan. There are 10 total countries with TPS designation.
For Sylvie Bello, the necessary legislation has come too late. There have been two chartered deportation flights to Cameroon that have left from Fort Worth Alliance Airport (in Rep. Johnson’s district) this year already, and a third is rumored for December 15th. “We hope that this resolution, which is quite frankly 10 months late, will be out before Congress goes out of session,” Bello said.
The Cameroonians asylum seekers ICE has deported have had their identification documents confiscated since arrival back in Cameroon, which means they cannot legally work, register a SIM card, send or receive money, find housing or leave the country. Many of them fear arrest by the government and are worried they could be killed.
Of the more than 100 deportees this year, two were women who may have been operated on against their will at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. On September 16, ICE attempted to deport Pauline Binam, a Cameroonian-American woman whose fallopian tube was removed against her will, but was unable to because the travel documents ICE had procured for her were issued by a Methodist pastor in Texas instead of the Cameroonian embassy in Washington, D.C.
Other Cameroonian asylum seekers have also endured serious trauma while in ICE detention centers across the U.S. In October 2019, asylum seeker Nebane Abienwi died from medical negligence while in detention at Otay Mesa detention center in southern California. In February 2020, over 140 Cameroonian women protested inadequate medical attention at Don Hutto detention center in Texas. In March and October 2020, dozens of Cameroonian men staged hunger strikes to protest racist treatment at Pine Prairie detention center in Louisiana. In October 2020, ICE officials tortured Cameroonians in Jackson Parish detention center in Mississippi to force them to sign their deportation papers. In all the cases of protest, ICE retaliated by splitting the protesters up and sending them to different detention centers.
Cameroon has been plunged into a brutal civil war since 2017 after peaceful protests for greater autonomy for the country’s Anglophone regions were met with violence from the largely Francophone government’s security forces. Since then, an armed insurgency has fought the government, and the resulting conflict has displaced more than 700,000 people and caused untold damage in the Anglophone regions.
The Anglophone conflict and a harsh crackdown by Europe on immigration since 2015 pushed some 10,000 to seek asylum or otherwise try to immigrate to the U.S. in the last six years, according to Bello. The Cameroonians who seek asylum face difficult and dangerous conditions to arrive in the US after flying to South America and trekking across eight countries to get there.
Cameroon’s conflict is a colonial legacy that dates back to when the British and French divided the land from German colonizers after World War I. France has thwarted attempts to make the Anglophone conflict a priority of the United Nations Security Council, which some activists say is the most efficient way of bringing the war to an end.
The U.S. has been a key partner for Cameroon’s military, which is accused of horrific human rights abuses. Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has been in power for 38 years and has survived in power by stifling dissent.
Over the course of its four-year term in power, the Trump administration attempted to dismantle TPS protections for the nearly 400,000 people it protects numerous times. Lawsuits from advocacy groups have blocked most of these efforts. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to “protect TPS and Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) holders from being returned to countries that are unsafe,” though he has not mentioned specific countries.
In November, Congresswoman Karen Bass (D-CA) introduced another bill, House Resolution 1221, that would prohibit the deportation of Cameroonian asylum-seekers. The bill has 53 cosponsors and has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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