They Escaped Slavery, Now They Are Threatened with Deportation. Kamala Harris, Bennie Thompson, and Joyce Beatty Are Trying to Stop It.
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) led a group of lawmakers in a bicameral letter calling on Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to cease the deportation of Black Mauritanian nationals, who face the threat of race-based discrimination, violence, or slavery if forced to return to Mauritania -- a country in northwest Africa. Joined by her House colleagues Bennie Thompson (D-MS), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), and Joyce Beatty (D-OH), the lawmakers are hoping to appeal to the Trump administration despite its hard anti-immigration stance. Most of the approximately 3,000 Black Mauritanians in the U.S. have been in America since the late 1990s, arriving after being violently expelled and stripped of citizenship by their government because of their race and ethnicity. “It is unconscionable for the United States to deport these individuals back to Mauritania, where they will likely be denied basic human rights and possibly persecuted and enslaved,” the lawmakers wrote. The Trump administration has deported 79 Mauritanians this year alone. While there is no official data, international anti-slavery groups have estimated the number of people living in slavery in the country to be up to 43,000, or 1% of the population. Local rights groups have estimated, however, that as much as 20% of the population is enslaved, with tens of thousands of people living as domestic servants, child brides, and forced laborers. Potentially thousands of other Mauritanians who could be at risk of deportation from the U.S. Has the State Department’s assessment of conditions in Mauritania or of risks and dangers for deportees in Mauritania informed DHS' deportations of Mauritanians? That’s just one question to which the lawmakers are demanding answers. They also ask each department if they have general policies and procedures regarding deportations of individuals to nations with governments that previously expelled such individuals on the basis of race or ethnicity. They go on, asking additional pressing questions and give each agency head 60 days to respond. Read the full letter here.