5, October 2019
A coalition of black immigration rights organizations are demanding to know more about the circumstances under which a 37-year-old man from Cameroon died Tuesday in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody.
Cameroonian immigrant Nebane Abienwi died Tueday after undergoing treatment for a brain hemorrhage at Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. He had been detained at the Otay Mesa Detention Center in San Diego since Sept. 19, according to ICE.
“We demand to know the circumstances under which Nebane lost his life,” read a statement from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, a group advocating for immigrant rights, and specifically raising awareness about issues facing black immigrants.
An ICE news release said Abienwi was rushed to the Sharp Chula Vista emergency room on Sept. 26 “after experiencing a hypertensive event in the middle of the night.”
“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” said a Wednesday statement from ICE about Abienwi’s death.
The groups calling on ICE for more answers include the Cameroon American Council; Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans; the Black Alliance for Just Immigration; the Black LGBTQIA+ Migrant Project; the Black Immigrant Collective; the African Public Affairs Committee and others.
Geneviéve Jones-Wright is the legal director for the Partnership for the Advancement of New Americans, “a research, community organizing, and public policy hub dedicated to advancing the full economic, social, and civic inclusion of refugees and Muslims in the region.”
“We believe his death would not have occurred had he not been detained,” said Jones-Wright, who added the group wants to get more information about what led to Abienwi’s medical emergency.
“What was the incident that gave way to him having a brain hemorrhage?” she questioned.
Jones-Wright said the Otay Mesa Detention Center has a history of instances of abuse, and that Cameroonians, in particular, face hostility and physical abuse in immigration detention.
In response to calls for more information from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration on Friday, ICE referred to the agency’s previous statement from Wednesday.
“We have no additional information,” ICE spokeswoman Paige Hughes wrote in an e-mail.
Abienwi applied for admission into the United States on Sept. 5 at the San Ysidro Port of Entry. In a news release, ICE said he did not have “proper entry documents” when he crossed on Sept. 5 through the port of entry, according to Department of Homeland Security records.
The group calling for reform said Abienwi should not have been detained in the first place.
“No one should be locked up for seeking safety and wanting a better life,” said the statement from the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.
“Black immigrants, in particular, report horrific experiences of anti-blackness, abuse, and harassment while in detention,” the group also said.
ICE does not confirm whether or not a person in their custody is seeking legal asylum. But Abienwi was likely an asylum seeker from a region of Cameroon gripped by ongoing violence, the group said.
In the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, conflict has erupted between the government and protesters over discrimination against farmers and English-speakers.
Amnesty International reported in June 2018 that armed separatists have killed military personnel, burned down schools and attacked teachers, while security forces have destroyed villages, tortured children and fired on crowds of protesters.
“People in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions are in the grip of a deadly cycle of violence. Security forces have indiscriminately killed, arrested and tortured people during military operations which have also displaced thousands of civilians,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns.
Over the past couple years, Mexico has seen an increase in asylum seekers from Cameroon and other African countries, according to their federal immigration data.
The number of Cameroonian asylum seekers to Mexico increased from 23 in 2016 to 105 in 2017 to 274 during just the first half of 2019, according to the data.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the number of Cameroonians applying for asylum to the U.S. has also increased from about 600 in 2012 to more than 1,300 in 2016, the latest numbers available.
An ICE news release said Abienwi received comprehensive medical care while he was in custody.
Physicians at Sharp Chula Vista provided treatment to Abienwi, who was non-responsive to questions. He appeared paralyzed on his left side and remained in the hospital until he passed away Tuesday, according to ICE.
Sharp Chula Vista medical staff pronounced Abienwi dead on Oct. 1. His next of kin and the Consulate General of Cameroon were notified of his death. The agency did not say whether or not Abienwi’s family was notified of his hospitalization.
The group of immigrant rights organizations said they condemned Abienwi’s death in ICE custody and “the human rights abuses in Cameroon that made Nebane flee.”
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution this summer calling on the government of Cameroon and the separatist groups “to respect the human rights of all Cameroonian citizens, to end all violence, and to pursue an inclusive dialogue to resolve the conflict in the Northwest and Southwest regions.”
The resolution has not yet been passed by the Senate.
There will be a vigil in Washington, D.C. on Monday at ICE headquarters for Abienwi and other Cameroonians and allies, the group said.
Source: The San Diego Union Tribune