The Flawed US immigration system for Cameroonian asylum seekers, explained
Violence has been on-going for over five years due to infighting among Anglophone separatist in Cameroon. This conflict all started in 2016, with peaceful protests initiated by lawyers and teachers demanding linguistic reform, which rapidly escalated into a war of secession. Protesters were assaulted, attacked with tear gas, imprisoned, and killed causing widespread destruction of homes and villages. This civil war is particularly calamitous, as the native-born citizens are often caught in the middle and experience the brunt of the violence. As a result of this political upheaval and humanitarian crises, over 1.8 million have been internally displaced, with many seeking refuge in other countries, including the United States, to avoid intercommunal violence. Although witness testimonies and satellite images validate the widespread devastation of this civil war, the catastrophic crisis continues to unfold. As Cameroonians flee their country and seek asylum in the U.S., their applications are denied. If they are fortunate to make it into the U.S. while seeking asylum, they are summarily deported back to their country to face persecution, torture, and other serious harm. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Immigration and Customs Enforcement choked, threatened, pepper-sprayed, and forced Cameroonian detainees to sign their deportation papers. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, Lauren Seibert, refugee and migrant rights researcher at Human Rights Watch shared that under the Trump administration, ICE deported more than 90 Cameroonians on two deportation flights, failing to provide Cameroonians with due process. Experts say that this unsettling and outrageous management of immigration policies resulted in a fragmented and broken system. Seibert also indicated that the “U.S. government utterly failed Cameroonians with credible asylum claims by sending them back to harm in the country they fled, as well as mistreating already traumatized people before and during deportation.” The dysfunction of the immigration system is illustrated by the plummet in the number of Cameroonians seeking asylum and the number of overall asylum applications from fiscal year 2020 to 2021, a decrease by nearly 80% and 60%respectively. As a result, it is predicted that the decrease in asylum requests to the United States is likely to continue. The inept immigration and asylum process did not only occur under the Trump administration. It was drastically flawed when President Bill Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This bill limited “cancellation of removal” to immigrants who had been in the United States for at least 10 years. The Clinton administration also set the stage for the criminalization of immigrants by imposing the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996.
This law shifted the rhetoric that conflated improper entry with unauthorized presence while targeting and criminalizing immigrants. For decades, countless studies have disproven former President Clinton’s and other policymakers’ unsupported claims that undocumented immigrants are somehow criminals. These studies have validated that immigrants —undocumented as well— were less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than U.S.-born citizens. According to scholars who have followed the U.S.’s immigration policies for decades, like Prof. Alexandra Pineros-Shields (Heller), the system is alarmingly flawed. “At the end of the day this is about U.S, foreign interest. The immigration courts are in the executive branch, they are not guaranteed any of the Miranda Rights U.S. citizens have. There is no other example in this country where you go to jail for an administrative offense. Foreigners are seen as a vehicle of profit,” she said. The result of an administrative violation is a fine, not a detention center, so its a relatively new way of profiting. But myths about immigrants are nothing new, and years of research and debate have debunked that immigrants are a major source of crime. Pinero-Shields ended our interview by stating: “Crossing the border makes them vulnerable to rape, sexual assault, and torture. They do it because it is the only option, the last resort. "Yet, despite the findings of these innumerable studies, opportunistic politicians and media figures continue to create false narratives that immigrants are a threat to personal and national security. False narratives about legal and unauthorized immigrants exploit the public’s anxieties and garner support for the drafting of policies that criminalize immigrants. The breakdown in immigration policies may be fueled by profit. For-profit companies like CoreCivic and Geo Group, two of the largest private prison companies in the United States, make billions in revenue from the incarceration of undocumented immigrants. As the immigrant-detention industry grows, these private prison companies work actively to shape the federal and state laws governing corrections and law enforcement by making sizable campaign contributions to politicians, and lobby Congress and state legislatures on bills that affect their interests. The American Legislative Exchange Council played a major role in drafting the legislation that would become Arizona’s infamous anti-immigrant law, SB 1070 whereby Arizona could make immigrants who cross over the borders criminals. This scenario represented a conflict of interest in which a company that has a vested financial interest in the incarceration of as many people as possible influences legislation that would increase the flow of prisoners into that company’s prisons. According to the U.S. Congressman Paul Gosar from Arizona, ICE in 2016 was required by law “to maintain an average daily population of 34,000 detainees.” The cruel effects of the United States’ flawed immigration system have massive implications on Cameroonians who are essential members of communities across the United States and those who have demonstrated remarkable resilience in pursuit of safety. In light of the ongoing humanitarian crisis and armed conflicts in Cameroon, it is direly important that President Biden and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas designate Cameroonians Temporary Protected Status. TPS will ensure, safety, security and that Cameroonian families are able to stay together and that those who seek asylum are able to do so without being further subjected to cruelty or harm from deportation forces such as ICE.